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Book Review: Every Boat Turns South by J.P.White

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Every Boat Turns South (Permanent Press) is the story of two brothers: Hale the shining star with all the promise a parent could hope for and Matt his younger brother who lives in his shadow. One night, ignoring his intuition, Matt follows his brother on a trip even though he feels a sense of foreboding. The die is cast, and the fate of Hale is sealed when the clandestine plan suddenly backfires.

Unable to cope with the memory of his brother and the circumstances of his death, Matt takes off. He accepts a job delivering a boat to St. Thomas. Three years later, Matt arrives on his parents’ doorstep, looking like “something the raccoons forgot to eat.” He carries with him more baggage than the two plastic bags in tow with a readiness to unload his guilt. His father Skip is a skeleton of his former self. He is dying as a result of congestive heart failure. He has tenaciously held on, though, unable to give up the ship.

There is little doubt that his mom loathes rather than loves Matt, for he has come home to tell Skip what really happened to Hale that night. He has returned to tell Skip about his adventurous trek of escape and survival.

This may appear to some as a simple story of an adventurous drifter, running from a lot of guilt and memories over his brother’s disappearance. It is, however, complex, an intricate composition of themes that twist around each other as you follow the undulating currents. The book is written in alternating narratives: one is Matt talking to his father, and the other is Matt’s journal or captain’s log. The characters never appear to be who they are, adding more mystery and intrigue: “ And sometimes I have seen what men have thought they saw.”

White’s compass rose takes you on a meandering voyage that will keep you guessing until the last sail south. The poetic lyrical motion of White’s writing is spiritually uplifting with a lilting cadence. Reading is an effortless indulgence as his prose embraces the reader. With the skill of an artisan in Venice, his imagery is precise beauty on paper, intended to captivate the audience.

Highly recommended.

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