Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on Safe from the Sea.
Several years after his estrangement from his father, Noah Torr is forced to recreate some semblance of a relationship when he travels from Boston to his home in
northern Minnesota. Living in an isolated cabin up on Lake Forsone, Olaf Torr is ailing, his body riddled with cancer. In spite of his stubborn attitude, Olaf refuses to see a doctor, preferring to wait out the few short months of what is left of his life in the comfort of his meager surroundings.
All that Noah can remember about his father is the old man’s drunkenness, a boozy vacancy that
permeated much of the youth he shared with his sister, Solveig. Riddled with arthritis, his hair and beard
gone completely white, Olaf has become a man who truly inhabits this place where the lake is like an “undulated line that rolls onto the shore,” where the fog has a “crystallized sharpness" that burrows deep into your very bones.
Noah immerses himself in the history of the Great Lakes' shipwrecks, the images and documents from decades ago
helping him cope with the anger, resentment and sadness that has colored so many years
emotionally removed from his father. Feelings of guilt translate into longing as Noah voyages into Olaf’s memories, thinking back to his boyhood and the ships, especially his father’s ship - the storied
Ragnarøk, a giant carrier of precious taconite ore that once sailed the stormy, wind-swept seas of Lake Superior.
As Geye gently weaves Noah and Olaf though their many tender, intimate scenes, each man is faced with the relics of his youth. Noah finally understands why his father’s love became so cruel. The awkward confidences in an afternoon of fishing steadily grow into a new enduring affection. Noah realizes how it felt to be his father back in the spring of 1938, a vulnerable, hardscrabble seaman who
battling to feed his wife and kids. For all these years, Olaf has carried the terrible burdens of what happened on that fateful night on the deep, dark waters of the
The crux of Geye’s novel is the emotional confession that unfolds between father and son,
but also essential to our understanding of this story is the tragedy of Olaf’s past, along with those of his weather-beaten, seaworthy
mates who once inhabited these Great Lake ports. Haunted by his guilt-ridden
past, Olaf tells Noah of that terrifying night, the Ragnarøk’s decks threatening to collapse under the weight of ice and water, the crew, bleary-eyed and miserable, attempting to do battle with hurricane force winds while diesel fuel splashed everywhere, crippling the engine room. A man who wanted to save his crewmates more than he wanted to save himself, Olaf couldn't quite believe that Red, his best mate, dropped from the ladder into the seething cold waters of the Lake, never to be seen again.
A million shades of gray blend into a rain-soaked landscape of love and loss. Noah
is left to murmur gentle words of comfort to his father, and sweet words of passion to his wife, Natalie. While Natalie can’t shake off her chagrin over a series of failed pregnancies, the evolution of Noah’s newfound relationship with his father becomes a powerful catalyst for
his journey to acceptance of his wife's futile battles to overcome childlessness.
Geye’s writing is graphic and elegant, Olaf’s story of the doomed Ragnarøk a vital, powerful symbol for the author’s themes of courage, bravery and self-sacrifice. Olaf’s plea for Noah to return him to this beloved lake is the final gift, but
one that comes at a price and with great hesitation for both Noah and Solveig. Revealing the heartrending connections between a father and his son
and between a husband and his wife, the author beautifully infuses a man's love for the sea with hope and trust. The result is a gorgeously melancholy journey of forgiveness mixed with an endless capacity for love.