The Closest Possible Union

Joanna Scott, Author Ticknor & Fields $17.95 (290p) ISBN 978-0-89919-662-6
The promise of Scott's brilliant first novel Fading, My Parmacheene Belle has been realized with this extraordinary tale of a doomed slave ship, narrated by its 14-year-old captain's apprentice. As the Charles Beauchamp crosses the Atlantic and discards its guise as a whaling vessel, Tom, whose account of the journey is rendered with Scott's flawless ear for the voices of other times and places, must contend with a growing confusion. Jack Carvee, the ship's cook, soon comes to a cruel and hideous end. The watchman, Peter Gray, is force-fed a ""communion'' of live cockroaches by some of the crew, led by the vicious Pharaoh and the bandy-legged Yellow Will. Tom, dubbed the Blue Monkey, is mesmerized by the wild tales about the enigmatic captain that the messboy, Brian Piper, dishes up along with the ship's grub. But nothing is as it seems. Tom, himself the privileged son of the ship's sponsor, is passing as a mere ship's lad. Peter Gray is revealed to be a woman. Her purpose in making the journey, she confides to Tom, is the quest for a mulatto African leader named Quince. Terrified both by Piper's fantastic stories about the captain and the captain's lurid descriptions of the barbaric Quince, Tom is wracked by fears at every turn. But Quince may not exist. The captain's eight dead wives may be fantasy. In this Kafka-esque narrative, only fear is real for Tom. Reality recedes as the ship takes on its dreadful human cargo, taking on a raving missionary preacher in the bargain. At the end, Tom is left wandering the ship, with Peter Gray at the helm. Scott is a writer with an exceptional narrative talent that belies her youth. This second novel demonstrates conclusively that modern literature has a major new voice. (April)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1988
Release date: 04/01/1988
Paperback - 978-0-8050-3973-3
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