Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Review of "The Starboard Sea" [23]

The Starboard Sea: A Novel by Amber Dermont
St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0312642808
February 28, 2012, 320 pages

It is apparent from the first pages, when we first meet Jason Prosper on his way from his New Your City home to his senior year in prep school in Massachusetts, that something is wrong. Not the least of because he realized that the only person he will miss will not he his successful businessman father, or his ever perfect looking mother, or his brother, a senior at Princeton, soon to join the family business. No, it will be the doorman at his building, Max. I think that may sum up something about Jason's family life.

But then the school his father is driving to is not just any prep school. It is the school of last resort for the offspring of the rich and famous, the place you go when every other school has throw you out.
"Bellingham offered us sanctuary, minimal regulations, and a valuable lesson: Breaking rules could lead to more freedom. Because the school catered to thieves, sluts, and dope fiends, it was understood that additional transgressions would be overlooked. If you could pay, you could stay. I comforted myself knowing that I'd all future expectations."
So how did Jason find himself here?
Well, it seems that after the suicide dead of his best friend Cal at their previous school, Jason went just a little crazy, acting out in ways that are never really detailed. But we know it must have been pretty bad. The death still haunts him but at Bellingham "acting out" will not matter. Jason and Cal had been friends since they were toddlers, their families living just blocks away from each other in NYC. And they were an extraordinary talented sailing team, spending summers together in Maine, and sailing very successful together on their prep school's team. Now all that is over for Jason.
But not to worry. His father promises a new building for Bellingham and he has a new school, and one with a sailing team.

However, when Jason almost accidentally drowns his teammate on the team's first sail out, Jason gives up the one lone thing he still loves, sailing, and the future is looking very bleak indeed.
Who would think that his chance of salvation would come in the form of fellow student Aidan, a girl with her own troubled history. But will it be enough to save either of them? From the book's description...
"Set against the backdrop of the 1987 stock market collapse, The Starboard Sea is an examination of the abuses of class privilege, the mutability of sexual desire, the thrill and risk of competitive sailing, and the adult cost of teenage recklessness. It is a powerful and provocative novel about a young man finding his moral center, trying to forgive himself, and accepting the gift of love."
This is, I think, an excellent book, beautifully written, and while quite clever and often amusing, it is at it's heart very dark and disturbing, especially in the view of the world it paints. There will be no neat and tidy happy ending, no shining hero that will rise above it all. While Jason is a very appealing character, and for all his flaws, still likable, he is far from perfect, as will become more and more clear as we find out his full story. Still we will hope he can rise above it all, we will care what happens to him.

The sea and sailing, are his touchstone and the author makes frequent and quite lovely use of sea related imagery. OK, I love the sea and I was sold! In fact, that is where the title comes from, a phrase his friend Cal coined. It means "the right sea, the true sea, or like finding the best path in life." And when you come to the last paragraph, it will be what you hope for Jason, that perhaps, finally, he will be able to find and sail his own Starboard Sea.
A very appealing, very powerful first novel from Amber Dermont and I will certainly be watching for what she turns out in the future.


  1. This sounds very good. I do think the fact that the person Jason missed the most was the doorman speaks volumes and I wonder if that's uncommon for people with that kind of money.

  2. Sounds full of tragedies and near tragedies. Kind of wonder how any kid could cope with out strong family support.

  3. I just love that you will read almost anything if this there is sea imagery in it as this seems a bit of a departure for you.

  4. I have this one from Net Galley, and have been wavering about whether to spend time with it. You have convinced me to put it in the queue.


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