cover image The Surfacing

The Surfacing

Cormac James. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-934137-92-5

In his North American fiction debut, Irish-born novelist James draws on the real-life search for John Franklin’s lost Arctic exhibition to explore the perils of life at sea, the rugged beauty of the Northwest Passage, and the transformative power of fatherhood. In the spring of 1850, the crew of the Impetus, one of several groups tasked with searching for Franklin’s ship, as well as other lost search-party ships, stops at Greenland’s Disko Island. There, Lt. Richard Morgan has a tryst with Kitty Rink, the sister of Greenland’s Danish governor. Days after the ship’s departure, Morgan, who has a wife back in Cork, Ireland, discovers that Rink has snuck on to the ship and is pregnant. After a failed attempt to leave Rink at another port, the crew presses on into the upper reaches of the Arctic. There, during the winter, the ship becomes lodged in a sea of ice, forcing Rink to give birth on board. For Morgan, who fears commitment, the entrance of his son, Thomas, sounds a “call to his better self”—even as it infuses the task of returning home with new urgency. Though the novel drags in places, James’s sharp prose and attention to detail, particularly to sounds (splintering ice sounds like “plates being popped”), leaves a lasting impression of this momentous journey. (May)