Friday, March 9, 2012

"The Starboard Sea"

Amber Dermont received her MFA in fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including Dave Eggers’s Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story, and Jane Smiley’s Best New American Voices 2006. A graduate of Vassar College, she received her Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston. She currently serves as an associate professor of English and creative writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.

Dermont applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Starboard Sea, and reported the following:
What a brilliant concept, to flip inside a book in the hopes of discovering whether a single page contains the entire world of the novel or just some sandy shoal. The Starboard Sea is the story of Jason Prosper, a young man who has transferred in his senior year of high school from Kensington Prep to Bellingham Academy. Jason is haunted by the mysterious suicide of his best friend and sailing partner, Cal. Page sixty-nine is significant to the narrative because it marks the first time that Jason shares a moment of friendship with Coach Tripp, the sailing instructor at his new school. An accomplished sailor, Jason quits the Bellingham sailing team during tryouts after a near fatal accident with his crewmember. The scene on page sixty-nine begins with Jason going down to the beach, seeing one of his classmates smoking and asking to bum a cigarette. Up until this point in the novel, Jason has been avoiding Coach Tripp and has found himself unmoored and alone. Jason is surprised to discover that the person sneaking a smoke is not one of his classmates but rather Coach Tripp. Jason apologizes for quitting the team and Coach Tripp admits how much he’d wanted to work with Jason. Tripp confesses to having seen Jason sail with Cal and also acknowledges that he is aware of the circumstances surrounding Cal’s death. The two share a cigarette and a moment of peace by the water. Jason listens as Coach Tripp tells a story about being lost at sea.
“I was out the other morning, alone,” Coach Tripp said. “The winds calm. The sun breaking over the water. Birds quiet. Sailed right into this mass of green fog, moist, lush air. Washed my eyes green. I lost all sense of direction. I forgot that I wasn’t a novice. Actually thought that I might have drifted off. Thought I was trapped for good in some strange ether.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Nothing. I just kept her steady.” He stubbed his cigarette out against the seawall. “Fell out of the fog.”
The two go on to discuss ghost ships, circumnavigating the globe, and the history of celestial navigation. Throughout the novel, Jason must reconcile a series of losses and must contend with his own guilt and culpability. Bellingham Academy is not an easy place to call home especially not after the school is hit by a literal hurricane. Page sixty-nine is a quiet reprieve. The scene ends with Jason reflecting back on his talk with Coach Tripp and realizing, “I slept well that night because someone had been kind to me.”
Read more about The Starboard Sea, and visit Amber Dermont's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue