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March 2nd, 2009

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Every once in a while, on a whim you pick up a book you've never heard of and it turns out to be a hidden gem. The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong is that book for me.

The prose is as clean, powerful and pure as the sea it yearns for. The story is simple yet deeply complex. A father, after the death of his wife, sells everything and takes his three young boys on a yearlong odyssey
aboard a 30 foot sail boat called the Chrysalis. Told through the eyes of the oldest son Ben, the tale is at once epic as the ocean is wide, and as intimate as his struggle to keep his dad from destroying his family.  This is an adventure into the heart of darkness, but without the sentimental trappings that could have dragged it down. Since it's an all male cast, this is about what we as men expose and what we keep secret. Herlong knows her sailing and knows the struggles to keep a family in tact in times of crisis. This one is a keeper and simply the best book I have read in the past year. Search it out, you will not be disappointed. ****

Here's how it begins...

         Gerry says he remembers the sun and the fish. All the fish. The silver ones swimming around the rudder at anchor. The brilliant blue ones flashing across the fiery red coral. The big black ones curving like shadows at our bow as we sailed with the Gulf Stream.
         But the one he remembers best, he says, is the first one he stabbed with his spear. He tells how he shoved the spear right down into the flounder's head, how he pulled the still struggling fish from the water, and how he laughed--because he was six years old and could kill a fish.
         He remembers all that, he says, but nothing more. He says he was too little when it happened. He says I have to tell him stories.
         So I do.
         Once upon a time there was a family. Then a boat. And then islands.
         Once upon a time, three boys were lost at sea. One almost drowned. One almost went crazy. One fell off a cliff.
         Gerry says I'm making it up, but I'm not. Everything I tell him is the truth. I just don't tell him everything.
         I don't tell about the morning we woke up and Dad was gone. I don't talk about the storm. Or when we wrecked on the coral reef. I don't talk about--I never will talk about--when I left Gerry alone, standing there on the empty beach of that desert island with Dylan dying at his feet.
         I don't tell stories about those things and I don't need to. Because Gerry is lying. He remembers it all. Sometimes when we go sailing now we watch the shore slip by and we remember together. Not with words or even looks but with blood rhythm--with the rush of electricity from one body to another. I pull in the main sheet. I lean on the tiller. I tighten the jib. The boat flies.
         And I don't need to tell stories. I sit close to my brothers on the rail and I get dizzy. Like when you stump your toe and it hurts so bad you think you'll faint. The world spins backwards. I lose my place in my life. I'm running and I don't know if I'll make it in time. Then it's starting all over again. And it's not a story at all. It's real and I am fifteen...