There is no loss as tragic as the loss of a child. When Guy and Judy set out for a picnic on the fens of East Anglia with their young daughter, Freya, they have no idea of the random accident that will strike their little family or the agony of the loss that awaits them. In a matter of minutes, Guy’s world changes from blissful to unbearable, husband and wife drifting apart in the wake of loss. Five years later, Guy is in the North Sea on a ninety-foot Dutch coastal barge, hoping to find in this new wilderness that which has eluded him on land.
Page reveals his protagonist in a series of stories, from tragic past to the present; the afternoon of the freak accident; Guy’s experiences at sea; and the diaries he pens each night before sleep will come, tales of a future where his family is still intact and thriving, touring America’s rural South together. Through these separate realities, Page strips to the marrow a man in search of peace, fine-tuned to his inner temperature and the power of the sea, drifting toward resolution in one way or another. Unable to accept the fate of his simple expectations of marriage and family, Guy finds solace in writing of what might have been, nearly seduced by the force of his imagination until he meets two women on another vessel nearly as distressed as he.
Marta and Rhona share much smaller quarters than Guy enjoys on his barge, but the recent death of Marta’s husband draws mother and daughter closer for a time in their mutual suffering. As Guy spends time with the pair, he is able to appreciate their grief and shared memories, in some small way cognizant of the vacuum that has enveloped him since the accident. Between the reality of his changed world and the fiction he creates to recapture the magic of those early years, it is possible for Guy to make peace with his fate, to redefine his loss: “All that you left behind is more than I was before.” Painful as his existence is, Guy understands that Freya brought unexpected joy to his life, a bounty otherwise inaccessible and paid for with her loss. Whether he can continue is another story, but the introduction of Marta and Rhona suggests an alternative for Guy to this torturous road toward oblivion, where solace comes only at the end of a new diary entry.
My only criticism of Page’s rather fascinating novel is Guy’s frequent escape into his writing rather than participating in the present. A desire for escape is understandable in such a grief-stricken character, but Marta is the one who suffers most for emotional paralysis. Within Guy’s passivity lies his dilemma: frozen in a terrible moment when Freya decides the course of her own future, the world deals a young father a near-crippling blow. Much like Guy’s ragged emotional trajectory, Page is as elusive as his protagonist, leaving his readers with yet another story to determine whether Guy’s future is hopeful or tragic and inevitable.