Junger has written an exciting and readable story, but not one that rises from journalism to literature. Maybe what gets lost when Luce replaces Melville as a muse is the metaphysics, the ability to make life and death meaningful in ways that are more memorable than the mere facts.
A different tradition inspires the writing of Lydia Bird's Sonnet, an account of her single handed voyage across the Atlantic in a 42 foot sailboat. Here is the kind of post Lucean personal journalism that prefers the "I" to the "it," threading the world through a needle of subjective experience. The Atlantic that Bird takes us across is not an objective sea of facts but the watery realm of a writer's psyche.
Bird's account is expanded from the diary she kept during the voyage, recording everything from engine problems to her dreams. There are heavy seas and storms, windless days and equipment failures to cope with, but throughout Bird's narrative most of the drama is psychodrama. She writes of her marriage, her parents, her boat, but her mind is on her moods. From Maryland to the Azores, she is alone; on the rest of the passage to Greece she is joined by other women. Yet neither solitude nor intimacy seems to help Bird escape her own afflictive emotions. "Tough passage," she notes in one entry. ". . . Fighting demons, not big seas." There is some fine writing in these pages. At her best, Bird can sketch in an immense seascape with a few strokes, as she does in this entry: "No ships, little speed, blue sea and sky, happy. Leg exercises, book to read, slosh of water."
But more often the prose is awash in waves of introspection. After she has made the passage from the New World to the Old World, she retreats belowdecks for a major cry. "It was having crossed an ocean without feeling a flush of success," she explains. "It was doing this thing I'd wanted so intensely to do, without really feeling I'd done it."
When Melville wrote that "Meditation and water are wedded forever," this was not the sort of meditation he meant. In Bird's watery world, metaphysics has been eclipsed by a kind of postmodern absorption with self. While the tale of her voyage is engrossing, a more expansive view of the world would have served her--and her readers--better.
Freelance writer Paul Trachtman lives in rural New Mexico.