- by Carol Standish
A Splendid Madness
(Sheridan House, 208pp, $23.95)
Written in the spirit of a confession, this oddly humble narrative recounts the rapid descent of a mild-mannered business man into full-blown addiction (well, maybe pre-occupation is a better word). The author is middle aged, unsuspectingly ripe for the big crisis. Burdened with the obligations of suburban life—hearth, home, mortgages, tuition, job and social life, he surprises himself by responding to an ad in the local newspaper and furtively scuttling off to a multi-week sailing class—discount given for the April session—on the nearby Hudson River.
Surprised that he was neither frozen to death nor inordinately discouraged, Froncek perseveres. At first shy but game, he has a wily teacher who is unflappably matter-of-fact. Over time he meets and sails with other novice sailors and a smattering of some more skilled. Another season, he ventures as crew with weathered veterans in the local races and is amazed by the leap in knowledge afforded by that experience. A year or two down the road, he screws up his courage and buys his first sail boat with an unexpected windfall. (His wife, no doubt went shopping, although that’s not mentioned in the book).
As he grows more skilled he ventures further, experiences rougher weather, becomes more skilled, more enthused, mildly castigating himself the while for his obsession. “It was pathetic. Apparently by acquiring a boat I had doomed myself to a permanent state of anxiety.” Sound familiar? It is just that combination of ingredients—Froncek’s abundance of both imaginative and domestic detail combined with his ingenuous, reluctantly admitted pleasure which floats the reader along on the froth of the cautious enthusiasm he considers rash. I bet even his forbearing wife, Ellen, to whom the book is dedicated, calls it sweet.