Romance and Romanticism, are they one and the same, or is the distinction just so complicated they sometimes get interchanged? Or can they also be just a part of the same whole? In real diction romance is about that feeling associated with love, while romanticism is often a description of that romance or a feeling emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity and the primacy of each individual.
In The Prodigal by Michael Hurley, both come together in a battle of supremacy. The romance of a story from long, long ago, one of star crossed lovers finds a way into the present. In 1851 a pair of young lovers steel away from their parents’ disapproval, stealing a sailing ship known as the Prodigal. With this beautiful ship known for its blessings and unnatural speed, they escape, leaving behind both grief and loss.
150 years later we meet Aidan Sharpe. As an attorney he has done well, rising to the top, but he has never really lived his dream. Yet visiting on Ocracoke Island he finds himself in an untenable situation. Some of his time is lost in memory, yet he remembers wine given to him by a nude woman on the beach, and when gathering himself together as best he can in his aftermath of the evening another woman offers him water. A seeming portent, his life is soon infected by scandal and disbelief.
Hiding away from his painful dismissal he finds himself caught up in the story of a two-thousand-year-old mystery when the sudden appearance of a ship is found off the coast, adrift and unmanned. As he researches the possibility of its history and the chance that it could be the Prodigal, he finds himself even deeper in the morass as he races against time to pit himself against the best in the regatta world.
Hurley has given us a story of hope and romance, yet the romanticism is what drives his motivation. There is something magical and majestic in his descriptions of the sea and the character of his histories.
His protagonist, Aiden, is like many of those people we sometimes think of as oily in their choice of career, yet when he finds himself down and out, he discovers a different person inside. We are there as he becomes a hero to many, and we go from thinking that he got his comeuppance, to rooting for him to win the race which is now the most important thing. Others along the way try to stop him, yet he somehow comes up with solutions even as all seems lost.
This is a story of amazing depth, and exciting adventure. There is a deep and abiding belief in both magic and religion, but the true mystery is the ship and the ocean. You will find this an interesting contrast to most romance, but will be intrigued with the vagaries.
This would be a great book for a reading group or book club. It would also do well as a curl up on the couch and dream of adventure story. Hurley has given us something to think about and believe in: ourselves.