Coming-of-age novels are often delightful to read. In them, readers
may be reminded of their own adolescence and the tribulations of
SEA ROOM is the title of Norman G. Gautreau's picaresque debut
novel. His picaro (hero) is Jordi Dupuy who is 10 years old. Jordi
and his family --- grandparents Pip and Zabet, and parents Gil and
Lydie --- all live and work together along the sea swept coast of
Maine. The men are hearty lobster fishermen and the women keep the
home-fires faithfully burning.
The story spans the years from 1941 to 1950. And, as the events of
that decade unfold, readers can clearly see the impact they have in
shaping Jordi's life. The United States enters World War II. Gil
goes off to fight and is killed. Instead of drawing together in
their sorrow, their grief drives the family apart. The men seek
solace from the sea and the women mourn at home.
Some months pass and Lydie tries to make a new life with the town's
drunken bully. The men embark on an enormous project, "…we
been thinking, wouldn't it be somet'ing if me and Jordi built that
boat? It would honor our Gil...it was his dream [and] Jordi will
learn basic boat building skills." They work tirelessly at framing
their ketch, but all of their efforts go up in smoke. As though
these characters haven't been through enough, the family must
sustain the trauma and agony of a murder trial.
So much melodrama does not make SEA ROOM a balanced book or a
particularly entertaining read. Unfortunately, the 'center does not
hold' and neither the love conveyed by these characters for each
other nor the intensity of their tragedies are strong enough to
keep this novel afloat. Even some of the familiar literary devices
Gautreau uses to add verisimilitude to his story feel forced and
not particularly relevant.
Overall, this book suffers from its simplicity and its desire to
breathe life into what is really a banal, albeit fictional reality.
Like the coastal town and the fisher-families who reside there, the
novel seems to strain at its borders seeking to rise on the tide.
Readers, unfortunately, will be disappointed if they are seeking a
'sea story' with resounding adventure and profound depth.
Nevertheless, a debut novel by a new author is always exciting and
cause for celebration. We can but hope that, in his next book, Mr.
Gautreau will allow for more breadth in his subject matter and will
create more interesting characters.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011