The Lifeboat/Charlotte Rogan: Reflections

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

By now you know the story of Charlotte Rogan.  Princeton educated, a mother of triplets, the wife of a lawyer, a quiet writer in the quiet hours, Rogan had written several novels and tucked them away before she finally, "practically on a whim," according to the New York Times story, sent what would become The Lifeboat to an agent.  The rest is history.  After twenty-five years of writing in near secret, Rogan has become an overnight success.

I read The Lifeboat yesterday.  I remain in the thrall of its intelligence.  There's not a sloppy sentence in this book, nor an excess line.  Grace, its heroine (?), is masterfully complex, and so are the issues that unwind across these pages.  It is 1914.  A ship has gone down in the Atlantic.  A crowded lifeboat is cast about on open seas.  Easy rescue doesn't come.  Survival is at stake—but whose, and at what cost, and what will the civilized say about the surviving later, in a court of law?  Who is sane, who is acting, what is true, and what are the options if there is no land in sight and water is short and dangerous factions have formed?  Is it possible not to choose a side?  Can we ever adequately explain, even to ourselves, the choices we make in extreme, inhuman moments? 

Rogan further complicates her story by further complicating Grace, the young woman, recently married, who is on trial with two others when the book begins.  Grace has, in some ways, bludgeoned her way into the high society she craves.  She has gained her husband at the expense of another woman.  She may have gained this seat on the lifeboat at the expense of something else.  Is she a good person?  Do we root for her?  Are any of us untainted?

Psychologically taut, finely paced, quietly but masterfully suspenseful, The Lifeboat, despite its setting on the high seas, never leaks from itself, never goes off on a stray tangent.  It's a remarkable debut, as focused a novel as I have read in a long time.   


Serena said...

Ah, yes. This is on the tbr list!

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