Title: In the Wake of the Boatman
Author: Jonathon Scott Fuqua
Publication: Bancroft Press; November 1, 2008
Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS
I’ve been thinking about this book since finishing it earlier in the week; haunting and complex, In the Wake of the Boatman was so much more than I anticipated.
Why is it that some talented authors never seem to garner the attention that they deserve? Jonathon Scott Fuqua has written several award-winning novels but despite the literary acclaim, I’d never heard of him until I read his most recent novel. After finishing In the Wake of the Boatman, I’m eager to read and review his other works.
A son’s troubled and turbulent relationship with his father and his struggle to reconcile his gender conflict, In the Wake of the Boatman examines the most basic and enduring themes of the family dynamic while highlighting a secret internal conflict.
The novel follows the life of Puttnam Steward, only son and second child of Carl and Helen Steward. From birth, Puttnam’s presence, and later his childhood and teenage actions, cast a pall on the family.
His sister is the light to his dark, the saint to his sinner. Fuqua’s repeated use of light imagery when describing her “…Mary was radiant as ever…a beacon amongst the hugging hordes…”, created an ethereal character whose name suggested divinity.
The relationship between father and son is mired in disappointment, competition, and resentment. Carl can’t relate to his son on any level and feels that Puttnam intentionally antagonizes him.
Puttnam finds success where his father failed–at college and in the military. Not only does Puttnam graduate from the school his father failed out of, but Putt also sees almost three tours of duty in Vietnam and is a decorated war hero, while his father failed three physicals that prevented him from going to war. Putt goes on to help break up an espionage ring, becoming a national hero and media darling. The public acclaim and adoration isolate him further.
Symbolism and nautical imagery is rife in the novel–Carl’s fruitless attempts to build a sea-worthy boat could be interpreted as his failed efforts as a father to his son; the family name, Steward, has a nautical connotation–a person aboard a boat responsible for the comfort and care of the passengers (which the patriarch of this family isn’t able to provide), and a major plot event occurs on the water.
Father, son, and son-in-law (Mary’s husband) also share a history of leg injuries, limps, knees that lock up, crutches, and canes suggesting an inability to physically stand up on their own feet and deal with their respective issues.
Ultimately, Puttnam must come to terms with himself, his family relationships, and his future. Fuqua avoids wrapping the novel up with a tidy ending, which I think only adds to his strength as an author.
In the Wake of the Boatman has so much to offer and I hope others will be inspired to read this novel. That said, I’d like to return to my initial question: Have you read a great book by an author who isn’t garnering the attention he or she deserves’? Tell me about the author and his/her book.
Thank you to Harrison at Bancroft Press for opportunity to review this novel!