Flat Water Tuesday, Ron Irwin
Rob Carrey has just graduated high school after winning a trophy for sculling. This win has propelled him into the world of Fenton, a private school for well-heeled kids. He was from a modest background and he was offered a scholarship to this boarding school because of his rowing skill. They needed a good rower for their crew.
The best crew was called the G-d Four, and they were very good. If the Fenton team beat the Warwick team, each of the 4 rowers on the God Four would be guaranteed an invitation to attend Harvard because of an arrangement made by their coach, Channing, with Harvard. The coxswain for the God Four was a girl, named Ruth. She too would be given that prize.
Fifteen years after Robert Carrey spent that scholarship post graduate year at the Fenton School, he received his first contact from someone on his rowing team. A mysterious tragedy had occurred during his time there, and it had caused them all to move on alone, in different directions, and none of them ever contacted each other again until the arrival of this sudden communication.
John Perry has sent him a letter confessing about his drug and alcohol abuse and apologizes for his past behavior. It is a requirement of his rehab. Shortly after, Ruth, the coxswain, contacts him. Ruth has also received a letter from John, which neither of them answered. She also has some additional sad news. Ruth tells him that Perry has killed himself, and his parents have requested that the team come to the memorial service being held for him at the school’s anniversary celebration. This catapults them back into an environment, each was trying to run from, to forget.
Returning there ignites traumatic memories of that time. It is actually by working through these memories, that Rob finally gets the courage and the will to move on and try to improve his life. All of the G-d Four were running away from something, in one way or another. Not all ran to safety.
The story moves back and forth in time from the year at Fenton to the present time, in their adult life, 15 years later. It is truly a sad story about kids, a sad commentary on the society of privileged kids, privileged financially but lacking family involvement that they crave, kids who feel neglected, unappreciated, who feel they can’t ever be good enough to satisfy their phenomenally upwardly mobile parents, kids who crave attention and love more than the money, who abuse the money and their privileges because of what they perceive is missing in their lives, kids who feel deprived without the usual suspects of deprivation. The book is about coming of age through tragedy, some make it, some find love and fulfillment, some don't. It s about what has commonly become "a search for oneself", something today’s young and old of any age, seem to be pursuing. It is the search for what makes a person happy, what is important in life. These goals are different for each of us; for some it is love, romance ,family, professional success, money, travel, freedom etc. Some never find what they seek and remain in the wilderness they fail to navigate.
The reader of this audio made the book come to life for me, especially since I am not a rowing aficionado. He was really excellent. He made the water sport, with its intense training and the racing that followed, seem so exciting, even though there were details I didn’t have a clue about, whereas I think reading it, in its print form, might have been really tedious and a bit boring to plow through, not quite as engaging for me.
As an aside, while reading about the author in the Buffalo News, http://www.buffalonews.com/20130701/buffalo_native_x2019_s_debut_novel_x2018_flat_water_tuesday_x2019_is_july_book_club_pick.html), I learned that Niccalseti, Rob Carrey’s home town, when said quickly, is really Nickel City and that natives of the Nickel City, unlike me, would immediately realize that it referred to Buffalo, and that the town in the book was fashioned somewhat in its image! Irwin, whose past is rooted in Buffalo, has based this story loosely on his own experiences growing up, learning to row and coming to grips with maturity.
For me it was reminiscent of “A Sense of an Ending” and Dead Poet’s Society; it is about the same generation of young kids, kids who do “dumb” stuff, often with unexpected tragic results.