Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Date: November 5, 2010
Rating: 5 out of 5
Book summary: Set against the powerful lakeshore landscape of northern Minnesota, Safe from the Sea is a heartfelt novel in which a son returns home to reconnect with his estranged and dying father thirty-five years after the tragic wreck of a Great Lakes ore boat that the father only partially survived and that has divided them emotionally ever since. When his father for the first time finally tells the story of the horrific disaster he has carried with him so long, it leads the two men to reconsider each other.
Meanwhile, Noah's own struggle to make a life with an absent father has found its real reward in his relationship with his sagacious wife, Natalie, whose complications with infertility issues have marked her husband's life in ways he only fully realizes as the reconciliation with his father takes shape.
Peter Geye has delivered an archetypal story of a father and son, of the tug and pull of family bonds, of Norwegian immigrant culture, of dramatic shipwrecks and the business and adventure of Great Lakes shipping in a setting that simply casts a spell over the characters as well as the reader.
My Thoughts: I became aware of Safe from the Sea when Ti gave it a glowing review on her blog, Book Chatter. I knew then I wanted to read this book. It took me a while to get to it because I didn’t want to have any reviews hanging over my head or other things I had to do. I like to be able to sit down with quiet books like Safe from the Sea with a clear head and simply enjoy and savor the reading experience. And that’s exactly what I did! This is a quiet, beautifully written book about dying, death and life and how to cope with them.
Peter and his father Olaf have been estranged for many years. So, when Olaf calls asking for Peter’s help, he agrees to visit his father immediately, if reluctantly. It doesn’t help that Peter’s wife Natalie isn’t happy about his leaving. There’s been a lot of tension and stress in their relationship recently. Peter may be relieved to have a reason to get away for a few days. Peter arrives at his father’s small cabin in the Northern Minnesota shipping village of Misquah to find things very different than he expected. The cabin and land are in a surprising state of disrepair. When Peter first sees his father he almost doesn’t recognize the small, fragile looking, stoop-shouldered man. His intentions to be cool and somewhat uncaring towards Olaf completely dissolve.
Things between the two men are awkward at first but it seems they both want a better relationship. As the days go by, father and son begin to talk about the past, attempting to smooth over and clear up misunderstandings. Geye shows a keen eye for the intricacies of human behavior as well as an understanding of family interactions that lead to miscalculations and judgments that compromise relationships. Peter and Olaf don’t really know each other. Resentments based on half-truths set in many years ago and precluded a stable father and son relationship. These flawed but good men finally sit down to talk about the pink elephant in the room: the tragic shipwreck 35 years ago on Lake Superior that brought the Torr family to its knees. This is an amazing section of the book. I felt as if I’d witness the shipwreck after reading Geye’s detailed description.
The setting in the raw and cold Northern Minnesota wilds plays a major part in the story. The powerful waters of Lake Superior are both beautiful and frightening. Geye describes the area so skillfully you can hear the wind howling off the water, hear the snow crunching under foot and feel droplets of lake water on your skin. He’s also careful to keep the setting in the background where it complements the father-son relationship but doesn’t over power it. And it’s in this stark, quiet landscape that brings back so many memories for Noah, father and son find forgiveness and reconciliation and learn to trust and respect each other.
This heartfelt story is a reminder of the importance of family and relationships and keeping open the lines of communication. Spending a week with his father, talking with him, heals Noah’s wounds from the past, giving him a new perspective on love and family. Olaf and Noah There’s a lot of sadness in this book but there are also plenty of funny moments as well as happy ones. This is a wonderful, absorbing debut. If you haven’t read it yet, try to very soon. I think you’ll be happy you did!