Have you ever wondered what it would be like to make a living as a fisherman? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to build your own boat? Or man a ship – by yourself – in a storm? Or catch lobsters and crabs and – sometimes – cocaine-filled quahogs? Spartina by John D. Casey is your first row look at all of it!

Spartina tells the story of Dick Pierce, a commercial fisherman in Rhode Island, and the other people who live there. Dick has spent his entire adult life on the sea on other people’s boats. Now, with a wife and two nearly grown sons, he is anxious to finish building his own boat, the Spartina-May.

There is a whole cast of characters that make completion of this boat and earning a living while he’s doing it more complicated. The Narragansett Bay has a Gatsby feel as the rich begin to move in, building condominiums on formerly empty land that Dick has grown up with his whole life. As he watches the local area transform, he runs out of money for building his boat and gets tangled in a tricky web himself.

This book tells the account of life as a fisherman, and I found myself Googling many of the terms Casey uses to refer to parts of the boat, different sea animals, and other expressions. The way he’s written this book sweeps you up in the culture and livelihood of the whole area, and even though it’s one I’ve never even visited before, I could picture it clearly in my mind. I found myself wondering if Casey had lived in Rhode Island while he wrote this book or grew up there himself because it seemed so authentic. I’m not the only one who’s impressed, by the way – this book won the 1989 National Book Award.

Even though it’s primarily an adventure story, there’s a little romance to go along with it. Take this quote for example:

“She was better than him. It wasn’t alarming to hear this news, it was deeply, thickly soothing. She was lightened of a dangerous disabling weight. She wasn’t him. She’d become separate from him, and yet she was staying with him.”

Of course, that’s Dick talking about the Spartina-May, but when your life depends on your boat, you can understand why he falls in love 🙂

Stats: 385 pages
Rating: 
4/5 stars
Recommended for: Anyone up for an adventure and a peek inside Rhode Island/fisherman life. I think this would be a great epic summer read that will sweep you up and make you think. (It’s definitely not a ‘beach’ read in terms of levity, but still a fun one to get into.)
Up next: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (It’s summertime so you know what that means…my book selections will be bent toward the classics for the next few months. Kicking things off by finally getting to a childhood favorite!)

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