The Plover by Brian Doyle

Declan O’Donnell is escaping a messy life (we only learn bits and pieces of the mess, but like most good messes, it involves family) by sailing “west and then west” off the Oregon coast into the Pacific Ocean on his fishing boat, The Plover.  He intends to bob along aimlessly and alone, but right off the bat he is joined by a seagull who follows him out onto the ocean.  Declan doesn’t mind the company, but he doesn’t feel nearly as accommodating when, several weeks later after a quick stop at an island to refuel, he finds himself hosting another two passengers, a father and daughter whom he knew from Oregon.  Declan gets used to his small crew and makes the best of the company, but then, as more passengers are picked up under an assortment of remarkable circumstances, Declan finds his solo journey has transformed into, in Declan’s own words, “a fecking ferry service.”

Declan and all of his various passengers are good people who, sometimes grudgingly, elicit the best in each other; they are by no means perfect, but they are portrayed, in all their quirks and imperfections, as worthy of love, grace, and forgiveness.

There is a beauty and a wholeness to this work that defies easy categorization or description.  The whole world is in or about The Plover.  It is the center of a radius that includes all, from the deepest point of the ocean under the boat up into the sky as far as the eye can see.  Notice is paid to each creature in this bubble — the seagull following the boat is a character in its own right, as are the two timid castaway rats and the warbler with an injured wing who is hiding under the boat’s water tank.  The ocean is treated with its own wholeness — Doyle’s tale doesn’t limit itself to the human-reachable surface, the waves and storms and the sparkling reflection of the sun as they are experienced by Declan and his crew.  The deep crevices and unseeable creatures, the reach of the ocean from shore to shore, the underwater topography — it is all a part of this tale, which is infused with an aura of mysticism or enchantment.

There are moments here that could be considered quite dramatic, as when Declan dives into the ocean on a moonless night to rescue a kidnapped passenger, but even these moments are told in an understated lilt that makes them feel like the stuff of fable. The overall impression is rocking on the waves of the story, drifting where it leads, the world spread out around us, welcoming and whole, and above all, good.

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