Declan O Donnell is captain, owner and sole passenger on his small fishing trawler, the Plover. The master of his future and declaimer of his past, he sets out from the Oregon coast to sail “West and then west for weeks and weeks or months and months sweet Jesus knows how long.”
Well outfitted with fuel and food, especially limes and nuts --- he’d read Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London, so he knew about scurvy --- Declan is primarily familiar with the Oregon and Washington coastal waters, venturing a few times seaward down the coast into the Pacific with his friend, Piko. Now in his late 20s, Declan decides he has had enough of people, politics, traffic and noise. The Pacific Ocean is the most unexplored region of the planet, but Declan is not out to chart and claim new islands. He has tucked the entirety of Edmund Burke’s writings and sayings into the driest cubby of the ship’s hold with which to ponder undisturbed on the follies of mankind. His sole goal is serenity, solitude and contemplation --- no schedules to keep or obligations to meet.
"Touching, soul-searching and uplifting, while hilariously profane at the same time, Declan’s creative epithets are eloquent and frequent. THE PLOVER touches that seeker of truth and redemption that lives within each of us."
Declan sets sail only with charts and maps of the entire Pacific Ocean --- the skies above it with their constellations, and the ocean below with its troughs, continental faults and mountain peaks that make up the hundreds of unnumbered and unnamed islands. His only armor against the sea and its inhabitants are his wit, his seamanship, a bow and a quiver of arrows. Whatever happens, happens.
Brian Doyle’s too-young-to-be-so-curmudgeonly character, Declan, discovers to his dismay that no man is an island, no matter how far from civilization he flees and no matter what Edmund Burke declares. He ruminates one morning well into his journey as he looks over the crowded deck that his island, his ship, had become a “fecking bus” as he encounters and gathers the most motley crew ever assembled. His passenger manifest begins with a wise and faithful herring gull and grows as an amazing crippled little girl and her sorrowful father come aboard, later joined by a giant Samoan with motherly skills, and others in need of rescue --- from friendly to dangerous, spiritual to profane.
Wisps of other memorable journey books arise as you sail off with the Plover --- THE ODYSSEY, COLD MOUNTAIN, LIFE OF PI, ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE, THE SPARROW --- yet this novel defies comparison as it stands out as a purely original, witty, literary, lyrical, philosophical wonder all by itself.
Touching, soul-searching and uplifting, while hilariously profane at the same time, Declan’s creative epithets are eloquent and frequent. THE PLOVER touches that seeker of truth and redemption that lives within each of us. Who hasn’t wished they could get away from it all? But Declan learns that he cannot just leave shipwrecked souls, even the worst of them, to float away on the waves.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on April 20, 2014