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April 2nd, 2014 KATHRYN PEIFER | Books
 

Brian Doyle, The Plover

At sea.

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Mink River, the 2010 novel by University of Portland professor Brian Doyle, ends with protagonist Declan O’Donnell sailing away into vast sea. Four years later, O’Donnell is back in Doyle’s new novel, The Plover (Thomas Dunne Books, 320 pages, $24.99), and still aimlessly drifting about that vast sea.

Declan is a middle-aged sailor with a curious swearing habit of “fecking fecked feck” and a disposition for solitude. He’s in search of nothing and requires no motivation to leave the mainland abruptly and in silence. Doyle is clearly infatuated with the gruff Declan, and more interested in giving his salty protagonist opportunities to dispense his chestnuts of wisdom than pushing him through a plot. The Plover’s storyline is directionless—even Declan’s “west by west” route (emphasis on the west) feels pointless.

The prose, however, is beautifully crafted and peppered with references to Herman Melville, Edmund Burke and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Macbeth. Doyle’s wistful and profound use of English is impressive, though not an apt substitute for a proper plot. The arbitrary story mainly involves the ways Declan collects a boat full of other rejects. Along the way we meet his friend Piko and Piko’s mute daughter, Pipa; an androgynous female sailor named Taromauri; a bootlegger named Enrique; and a minister and a forest child searching for world peace in the mythical oceanic country of Pacifica. After landing on a dangerous island and then returning to a safer island, Declan sails away yet again, but turns around a mile out to sea, raising hopes that his sailing days are finally over. Given how much Doyle loves Declan, though, that seems unlikely.

This philosophical book is rife with a sailor’s anecdotes and word porn. “If an ocean…is the sum of all the rivers pouring into it, then we are on various braided rivers, really, rather than the sea,” Doyle writes. The Plover’s audacious language and blend of nautical realism and fantasy color an ideal sea adventure that sinks without much of a plot to steer it.


GO: Brian Doyle appears at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651, on Tuesday, April 8. 7:30 pm. Free.

 
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