CM . . . . Volume XX Number 18 . . . . January 10, 2014
A re-issue of a classic Canadian adventure novel from 1948, Saltwater Summer is the story of 17-year-old Don Morgan, an orphan who, after saving his money spending a year trapping, buys a fishing boat and sets off with his best friend Tubby to fish commercially for the summer along the B.C. coast. Basing themselves in a remote outport, Don and Tubby have their share of difficulties learning about the tricks of the trade, finding fish, surviving sudden ocean gales, and getting along with the more seasoned veterans of the profession, not to mention with each other, and, for a period, Tubby leaves Don's boat to fish with another crew. They become friends with the kindly Red Holiday and his moody partner Tom Moore, joining Tom in the book's climax on a harrowing mission to save loner Jake Heron, marooned in the middle of a late summer storm. Don ends the summer friends again with Tubby, with enough money to pay back the loan on his boat, and looking forward to whatever his future holds, fishing or not.
Written before the birth of the modern young adult novel, Saltwater Summer is an equally vivid portrayal of adults as it is of teens. It takes some time to become engrossing, weighed down by multiple details of fishing technique and equipment, much of it unfamiliar to most readers, and occasionally too dependent on transparent views into Don's and others' thoughts. Much of the book is taken up with character portrayals-for a book set in a remote outport, there are a lot of people to meet! Don's inner struggle about whether he wants the life of a fisherman or not, and his indecision about fishing techniques and locations, also take up a good portion of the book. But as the main characters come into fruition, and the adventure picks up, a fascinating portrait of men living a difficult life, and boys who are learning that life, comes into view.
While Don presents a sympathetic character, quietly heroic although almost too well-meaning for his young age, the most fascinating character is that of Tom Moore, a veteran of the recently ended war who suffers from what would be called in this century post-traumatic stress disorder. When Tom speaks up, in the passage quoted above, to voice his disapproval of the racist attitudes of the fisherman talking about their Japanese counterparts still not returned to the West Coast after their infamous internment, this signals the beginning of not only his healing but of the book's profound connection to the people and the events of the time. Talking to the educated Tom, Don starts to understand his uncertainty about his path in life, even considering going back to school.
Somewhat trite, overtly innocent, and occasionally flirting with the didactic, Saltwater Summer often pales when compared to the complex, stimulating, morally ambiguous young adult fare of today. Readers today will also find it awkward where several speakers engage in dialogue in a single paragraph. This edition also has a number of minor typographical errors, most involving misplaced quotation marks. But seen as a product of its time, Saltwater Summer is prescient and compelling, and ultimately an enjoyable read.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.