Thursday, February 25, 2016

'Before the Wind' by JIm Lynch

Before the Wind

Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do you like to sail? I don’t mean lying in the sun on a sailboat while someone else steers. I mean rigging the boat, launching it, manning the sails. If so, you will thrill to Jim Lynch’s new novel, which is set in the world of boats driven by the wind. If not, prepare to be schooled as well as entertained.

Narrated by Josh, the adult middle child of the famous, boat-building Johanssens of Puget Sound, the central family story is surrounded by other quirky, sailing-related stories, such as Einstein’s love of sailing (who knew?) and the various dreamers and dropouts who want to sail around the world or live on moored sailboats.

There is copious detail about the sport, and I love the way Lynch delves into the topic and makes his protagonist family around it. I don’t sail, but I live with a racer of small sailboats, so I can’t be an impartial judge as to whether all the references to vangs and halliards and jibs will it be too much for the uninitiated.

I can say Lynch really captures sailors, even though the ones I know sail small boats and live on the east coast rather than big boats out west. Including anecdotes about Einstein, elements of physics, and a mathematics-obsessed character fit too.

For the family story, Lynch broadens some familiar roles--the domineering father who drives his children to excel and ends up driving them away, the hot-headed oldest brother, the peace-maker middle child--with others than go against type and a touch of magical realism in the person of Ruby, the youngest Johannsen who is a gifted sailor and healer bordering on the supernatural. Lynch also weaves humor throughout, including Josh’s recounting of his online dating experiences and a co-worker who likes to quote the movie March of the Penguins.

Before the Wind is touched with both wonder and sadness and ultimately about finding one’s place in the world, which may mean leaving family or returning to it. The reader may need a little patience to read through the setup to get to the meat of the family story, but it is well worth it.

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