You don’t always know what you’re going to get when you pick a random book off the shelf. As a reader, I sometimes feel boxed in by reading lists. So I occasionally like to choose books spontaneously. I picked Sea Wife during my latest Read React Decide YouTube video. It took me a bit of time to get to it, but I’m so happy I did. I also thought it was especially good to read during the summer, since it’s a book about sailing. Good timing, even though I take no credit!
I had never heard of Sea Wife, published in 2021, but it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I’d describe it as suspenseful literary fiction that looks at the complexities of marriage and parenthood.
What would you do if your spouse asked you to pick up and embark on a year-long sailing trip in Panama? Michael Partlow had been feeling the itch to get away from suburban life in Connecticut. Restless and distracted at his job, he finds himself hanging around a marina during his lunch hour. There he meets Harry Borawski, a boat dealer, who helps him find a 44-foot sailboat. Harry may be trying to close the deal when he tells Michael, “What you want is a holy human right, and you shouldn’t give it up… to feel the burden of carrying your own life,” but there’s truth in what he says.
Now it’s just a matter of convincing his wife, Juliet that a trip like this with their two young children, seven-year-old Sybil and two-year-old George, is what they desperately need. Michael may be restless, but Juliet suffers from debilitating depression. Motherhood is not what she expected. She’s inches away from earning her PhD in confessional poetry, but can’t seem to finish.
Michael is ultra-prepared but problems are inevitable and the family must rely on each other to get through storms and other difficulties. The children adapt, the family begins to enjoy their life at sea and Juliet emerges from her depression. Michael and Juliet also confront long-simmering serious conflicts in their marriage (many about politics). What they don’t know is if they can overcome everything that happens.
Gaige tells the story from two points of view: Juliet’s first-person account of their trip, told upon the family’s return, and Michael’s sea log which reads more like a diary. Readers sense a tragedy, adding a layer of suspense to the book.
I liked this book very much. It’s a fast read because you’ll want to know what happened. But it’s also a deeper look at marriage and parenthood.
I also made a short video about the book. I surprised myself by something I said!
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