Before the Wind|
Knopf, 2015, 290 pp, HC, $26.95
The northwest coast of Washington State has a lot of similarities to Maine. If you grow up on either Puget Sound or our own rugged coast, it's a given that you are involved with boats...even if it's just riding daily ferries. And a good portion of both populations is involved with boats...building and transporting th...and or sailing them. Jim Lynch's latest novel follows the salt-soaked Johannessen family (those members who stayed put...several siblings have escaped to Europe and other faraway shores).
The current generation runs a boatyard and builds boats of their own design. But this year the family is in slump...cranky and quarrelsome. "Running a boatyard is like working in a dementia clinic," says young adult son, Josh. Obviously, they need a diversion, and obviously it absolutely must involve boats. They all regain their focus when they decide to enter the annual Swiftsure Race in a classic Johannessen-designed and built beauty.
The character development may be the star of this tale. Three generations of the Johannessen family - Bobo, Sr. (Grumps), Bobo, Jr., Mother and the three grown children, Bernard, Josh and Lily are beautifully and believably realized. The father, Bobo, Jr. is described by our narrator, Josh, as "Loud, tall and meaty, he invades your space and claims the right-of-way. Mother, a high school physics teacher "...was immune to the sport (of racing) even though she contributed to the obsession, filling us with science..." The eldest sibling, Bernard, has left for parts unknown and is likely engaged in some activity not quite legal. Lily, the youngest, becomes famous as a teenager for reading wind and water and winning races.
Their stories and those of minor characters are told with both anger and sympathy by Josh who Ruby once says is "...the one who thinks he can fix whatever's broken even though he knows it'll just break again."
Before the Wind feels like a short book mostly because Lynch is such a good writer and therefore you can't put it down. It is, in fact, 290 pages of insightful, salty action and likeable, well-drawn characters who face challenges we have all faced...even non-sailors.