Douglas Kelley, Author . Dutton $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-94619-9

Arkansan Kelley imagines the real-life voyage of Mary Ann Patten, the woman who in 1856 commanded the clipper ship Neptune's Car as it sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco while her husband, Joshua, was incapacitated by illness (possibly meningitis). This landlubber's debut cruises smartly through the maritime details as Mary navigates treacherous waters using a sextant, beating one of her two main competitors into port, all the while dealing with the threat of a mutinous first mate. The 19-year-old shipbuilder's daughter—praised by the New York Daily Tribune as being "among the noble band of women who, by their heroic bearing, under great trial and suffering, have won for themselves imperishable fame"—cares for the ship and her husband even after she discovers she is pregnant with her first child. The captain recovers just long enough to make her job more difficult by restoring the first mate to his duties, and then confronts the scoundrel before relapsing. Unlike the recent Ahab's Wife, which evokes a fictional female seafarer with great literary ingenuity and even greater literary license, this tale rarely wanders far from historical accounts of the real-life heroine, who became something of an icon of the early women's rights movement. Ancillary nonfictional details (the novelty of running water in the individual baths of a New York hotel, negotiations with the pilot in San Francisco Bay, the calculations required for 19th-century navigation and protocol for captains' wives) help to bring Patten's story to life. (Aug. 27)

Forecast:This book will do best with niche audiences and will particularly appeal to readers interested in maritime affairs or early feminism.

Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-452-28355-8
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