Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Book Review: Into My Father's Wake by Eric Best

Into My Father's Wake by Eric Best is not really a sailing book. True, it does tell the story of a single-handed sailing journey in the Pacific by the author, but it is really one of those "inner journey" books in which the author bares his soul to work out his own psychological hangups through his writing. If that's your cup of tea, you might enjoy it. I have to admit I didn't.

First of all I don't think I would like Eric Best much if I ever met him. He doesn't seem the kind of bloke I would want to have a beer with after sailing. He admits that his years growing up, attending private schools, were marked by more than his fair share of fist-fights and angry confrontations. It seemed like he was a kid with a chip on his shoulder always spoiling for a fight, and as a result he had few friends. In his thirties he was "drinking regularly" and "slipping inexorably" into the collapse of his first marriage and telling some buddy in a bar that he could never write his first book while his father was still alive.

Ah! There it is. This is one of those "I may be a jerk but it's all my Dad's fault" books. Once Eric had revealed this on page 3 (as if the title wasn't a big enough clue) I decided that I really didn't like this dude and it soured me on the whole book.

A few pages later Eric tells us, "My first daughter was five when my marriage to her mother broke up, and I felt compelled to get into the ocean alone." Hmmm. With never a mention that in the midst of the emotional turmoil of the breakdown of her parents' marriage, this might just be the time that his vulnerable little daughter might need him the most, our hero decides to leave her and indulge himself in a long solo sailing voyage. Nice!

Eric's father warns his son that he doesn't have a the experience to attempt a solo crossing on the Pacific, but when Eric fails to find anyone else to give him a loan to buy the yacht he covets, Dad still lends him the money and even gives him his own sextant. Eric rewards him by writing this book which basically blames all of Eric's shortcomings and confused feelings on how his father treated him as a child. His father knew he was close to death when Eric showed him the first draft of the book. The book is so raw in its criticism of the father that Dad's only reaction was, "So you hate me, then?"

True, if Eric is to be believed, his father was a stern disciplinarian who beat his sons regularly. Eric also concedes that his father had done so much for him too - "schools and skiing and tennis and wood-carving and shooting". But I have to say I really had little interest in Eric's image of himself as an abused child and how this in some way explained his "incoherent, conflicted feelings" or "the "background noise of sadness."

By the end of the book, Eric's grandfather is also on the block for messing up his whole extended family including Eric's cousins. Something called "suppressed patricide" is being invoked to explain the extraordinary achievements of one cousin in Olympic rifle shooting. And Eric's father's treatment of Eric's brother as a child was apparently responsible for why the brother had a stroke while working out at the age of 52.

Talk about the sins of the fathers! The stretch to explain everything from Eric's troubled inner feelings to a brother's unlucky accident to an over-achieving cousin on a failure in parenting style is biblical in its illogicality.

On the other hand, if you are the type of person who likes books that have page after page after page of conversations with imaginary friends in which the author explores "the background noise of sadness" in his life, interspersed with page after page after page about his struggles to take sun sights... then you might enjoy this book.

I didn't.



Chris said...

I'm in love with the phrase "biblical in its illogicality", and I'm going to steal it, though it send me to hell on two counts.

My old man would have approved of the phrase, and frowned on the stealing. One out of two ain't so bad; it's about as well as I ever did with him, and we loved each other dearly.

Though we've never met, I like you more for this review, t-man. Excellent insight, and prosaically logical. (That's a good thing.)

Tillerman said...

Thanks Chris. Pleased you liked that phrase.

This was a tough review to write. I really found the book tedious and uninteresting but it took me a while to work out why I felt that way. I didn't realize before that it's much harder for me to write a review explaining why I don't like a book than to write one explaining why I do like it.

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