THE NEED TO FINISH WHAT YOU START
As we first meet Will Lee, he is in his mid-twenties and has just taken the last of his second-year law school exams. But he has not yet finished law school; there is still a third year to go. In fact, Will Lee has never finished anything in his life, other than school courses, and is emotionally adrift in a sea of insecurities and failed expectations. And when the dean of his law school forces him into an educational sabbatical so that he can “find himself,” Will has absolutely no idea just how adrift at sea he will find himself, both literally and figuratively.
Will embarks upon the traditional “year abroad” that so many of the upper class and motivationally lost students of the Sixties and Seventies used to flee from both themselves and the Vietnam War. After a few weeks with his grandfather in Ireland, Will is waiting on the docks at Cowes (in Britain) to take a ferry across the English Channel to France.
As he waits, Will spots a yacht that has slipped its mooring in the crowded harbor. The tide is swift and several other boats, including the Queen of England’s yacht, are in its path. With the help of a young lad and his dinghy, Will overtakes the yacht, leaps aboard and, after several attempts and several battered vessels, succeeds in getting a line secured to an immovable source and stops the drift and destruction, just shy of the Queen’s yacht.
Having missed his ferry, Will is making plans for another when he meets the beautiful and gregarious Annie Pemberton-Robinson, immediately falling in lust with her. A short time later he meets her husband, Mark, accompanied by Derek Thrasher, the owner of the yacht he saved. It turns out that Thrasher has commissioned Mark to build for him a 60-foot sailing racer. After Mark learns of Will’s experience with sailing, carpentry and diesel engines, he convinces Will to join him in the project as his right-hand man.
And thus begins the most terrifying coming-of-age story that I have read in some time. When Stuart Woods has Will step aboard the Robinson’s boat, headed back to Ireland and the boatyard where the racer will be built, neither Will nor the reader has any idea just how much he will have to endure, emotionally or physically, in order to survive his “year abroad.”
It takes 15 pages to establish the basics of Will’s situation. But it only takes 5 pages to understand that Will’s sections will be told in first person and that the story is being told from the vantage point of hindsight, many years of hindsight. And the allusions of “had I known then…” lead the reader early on to determine that Will Lee will be the last person standing at the end of the tale, literally and metaphorically.
Wood’s use of this literary device makes for a tale that is both tense and spellbinding. And you do not need to intimately understand the world of sail boating to understand this storyline. While knowledge of boating – either power or sail – would smooth out some areas, the building of the boat is not the main focus of this story. It is simply the plot device that allows for the emotional, political and financial plots to transpire
And as those plots transpire, tumbling over each other and compounding, the book becomes one that you simply do not want to put down. But put it down I had to do, if only to step back momentarily, catch my breath and prepare myself for the train wreck that would so certainly occur before the last page was done.
In the end, Stuart Woods has taken events and places from his own past to form the background of the story. He has, by his own admission, taken people from his past, who, in their living and in their dying, became the inspiration for several of the major characters in the novel.
And, using both tactics, he has written the story of a young man lost at sea metaphorically, if not literally. It is a story of innocence lost and gut-burning maturity found. And it is a story of the pivotal events that form the character that Woods will, in later novels, make President of the United States.
Cover Art from Goodreads