The prudent mariner will not rely solely on any single aid to navigation, particularly on floating aids. That was one instruction she clearly understood. ~ page 130
THE PRUDENT MARINER is the story of 10 year old Riddley Cross, her grandmother Adele, who is losing a battle with Alzheimer’s, her eccentric neighbor, Carver and various other members of Riddley’s family.
The Cross family lives on the Georgia coast of the Inter Coastal Waterway in 1970. It’s a time of change but you can still see and feel the old ways of the South without even looking very hard or very far.
One day, in her recently deceased grandfather’s den, Riddley finds some disturbing postcards from the past. Since Pauline, Riddley’s mother, told her she could have the postcard collection as a remembrance of her grandfather, Riddley didn’t see anything wrong with keeping them to herself. She’s used to keeping secrets. She was sure that if she showed those postcards to her mother, not only would she never see them again, they were sure to upset Pauline a great deal.
Soon it becomes evident that Adele can no longer live alone, so she is moved into the garage apartment so Pauline and the rest of the family can look after her. In no time at all, it’s clear that Riddley has a way with her grandmother, unlike Pauline, her husband Sam or the twins, Emmaline and Charlotte, who are a few years older than Riddley. Adele, who never was a big talker, has become even more silent, and like Riddley, has a fondness for wandering and also for the river that runs so close to their home.
Adele and Riddley soon make friends with Carver, the woman who lives next door and begin to spend time with her, which is another secret the two share. Though Riddley has put the postcards she found in a safe place where they won’t be seen, they are never far from Riddley’s mind and even her dreams. There is something oddly familiar about them that she can’t quite figure out and when she shows one of them to Adele, she gets a response that raises even more questions.
Leslie Walker Williams’ THE PRUDENT MARINER is a very well written novel with beautifully developed characters who tell a story that methodically unfolds as we are getting to know them. She has skillfully created a multi-layered plot loaded with family history and even an air of mystery.
Being a lover of Southern Fiction, I was very much looking forward to reading this debut novel. I loved the characters, especially Riddley and Carver. Ms. Williams allows us to get to know and understand all of the main character’s personalities and even their inner-most thoughts. This depth of charachter is a very important part of the telling of this story. There’s so much more than a little girl trying to figure out why certain terrible postcards are in her family’s possession. There’s also more to Adele’s story than just an old woman fighting a mentally debilitating disease. And finally, more to Carver’s complex personality than the eccentricities that the locals speculate about. All of these factors combined add up to a very enlightening, powerful story.
For me, it got better with every turn of the page. At times, I found myself holding my breath. The images that I formed in my mind from the writing were so vivid, I could almost see it playing out like a movie. In fact, I think this would make a great movie. It has a simplicity about it, but at the same time, so many stories are being told. I loved the final pages of this book. The water plays such an important role in this story - seemingly at times, in slow motion.
This is a great debut novel and I will not hesitate to read future works by Leslie Walker Williams. I am so pleased that my local library purchased their copy solely upon my request. Ms. Williams is also a writer of short stories that have appeared in many publications. THE PRUDENT MARINER was awarded the Peter Taylor Prize and the Morris Hackney Literary Award.
THE PRUDENT MARINER
Author: Leslie Walker Williams
Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
Published: October 2008
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars