Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Practical Navigator by Stephen Metcalfe

It's an unusual title for a strong, character-driven novel. Stephen Metcalfe uses a book called The American Practical Navigator by Nathaniel Bowditch as a guide for his story of a man whose life is out-of-control. And, Metcalfe succeeds brilliantly with The Practical Navigator.

Michael Hodge was once a famous surfer, riding the waves. Now, his life is out of balance as he struggles to maintain control. He is the owner of a small, struggling construction company. He's a loving son learning about his mother's memory problems. And his most important role is as single father of a seven-year-old autistic son, Jamie. Days are not always easy when dealing with Jamie, no matter how much the two love each other. But, then Michael's estranged wife, Anita, shows up, after an absence of years. She's a fragile woman herself, and now she wants some contact with their son. Or, she thinks she does. She's not sure.

Anita has a shaky past. She comes from a well-off, dysfunctional family. And, when she's under stress, she turns to pills and alcohol. She had some years of sobriety and health when she traveled the world with Michael on the surf tour, but she crashed soon after Jamie was born, and left Michael with Jamie.

Metcalfe skillfully balances the story from various points of view; that of Michael, Anita, Michael's girl friend, Michael's employees, Jamie. They are all needy, sympathetic characters. And, the author is careful to be nonjudgmental although some of the people in the story do judge each other. The characters are awkward, with difficulties in navigating their relationships, and, sometimes the world itself.

While authors such as Lisa Genova (Love Anthony) have told of mothers and their autistic children, it's rare to see the father as caregiver. Stephen Metcalfe's The Practical Navigator is a beautiful story of a loving father and son. Even Anita recognizes that relationship when she says, "I love the way you love our son." The novel is an open-ended story. But, it's obvious that Michael and Jamie will be just fine with all that love.

Stephen Metcalfe's website is www.stephenmetcalfe.net

The Practical Navigator by Stephen Metcalfe. St. Martin's Press. 2016. ISBN 9781250075321 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

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