The Boatmaker

Tin House Books
February 15, 2015

A fierce, complicated, silent man wakes from a fever dream compelled to build a boat and sail away from the small island where he was born. The boat carries him to the next, bigger, island, where he becomes locked in a drunken and violent affair whose explosion propels him all the way to the mainland. There he works as a carpenter, struggles to stay sober, and attempts to understand the intricacies of a larger society and its dark underworld. After he is beaten and left for dead by two men he considered his friends, he is taken in by a charismatic priest whose mission is to cleanse the mainland of the corruption and impurities brought on by the current king. As the boatmaker’s journey takes him deeper into the layers of racial and religious hatred, he uncovers truths that allow him to redirect the course of his destiny. Part fable, part allegory, The Boatmaker is a haunting and passionate story of love and the voyage of self-discovery.

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Praise for The Boatmaker

Spare and solemn as a parable, John Benditt’s powerful first novel begins simply, with a man and a woman and a child in a little wooden house on remote, windswept Small Island. The man is feverish, dreaming of himself as a boy, walking toward a towering oak tree, its leaves rustling in the breeze. “Everything else is quiet; no insects or birds are singing. It’s high summer, the time of afternoon when the sun stands still and everything hushes. Even the sea.” If “The Boat­maker” were a film, Sven Nykvist would be its only possible cinematographer.”
– New York Times Book Review, March 29, 2015
John Benditt’s The Boatmaker is made of primal stuff: stone and sea, blood and snow, dreams of wolves and men like bears. This is a novel that will anchor you firmly to the earth, close enough to the pulse of the world that you might hear its drumbeat echo on every page.”
– Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods
Beautifully written in language as straightforward as that of a parable, The Boatmaker is a complex modern fable about innocence, discovery, loss, and redemption. Its protagonist, an Everyman who is discontent yet uncorrupted, takes us on a journey through cynicism, despair, violence, wonder, and prejudice only to lead us back to a place where we know who we are and why we have reason to dream.”
– Rachel Urquhart, author of The Visionist
The Boatmaker is about a man compelled from the inner depths of his being to take a journey that at first seems to take place on the physical plane, but really takes place on a level that cannot be seen by the Boatmaker or the reader until the journey is over. The unseen force of the novel is at work from the very first page, where the man is shown a vision in a dream that wakes him from a potentially fatal fever that he recovers from only to leave everything he has ever known behind to sail away from his small island. In his mind, his destination is the Mainland, but first he must stop over on Big Island where his inner demons nearly get the best of him before he can move on. Once he reaches the Mainland, we see that in order for him to survive he must be willing to relinquish or sacrifice everything he thinks he is in order to become who he really is. At once a tour de force and a strangely mesmerizing parable, this is a book that you will not put down even when you have finished reading it. I feel the book should come with a warning: This is a book you will want, NEED to discuss with others when you have finished reading it…”
– Pam Cady, Manager, University of Washington Bookstore, Seattle
I read The Boatmaker over a few nights, and while still in media res I, looked forward to driving toward the end. The novel comes across as fully formed, as if it had already been in existence for some time. At moments I toyed with the fancy that the author had plagiarized in toto an unpublished work of some Scandinavian or Baltic writer from the 19th Century. It would be fortifying to think that the last century and the present one could resolve themselves in an environmental image as durable as a man on a remote island who has confidence, a far-flung but faithful family and a desire to build wooden boats. While I was reading The Boatmaker I wondered what Herman Hesse reads like by comparison. As chance would have it, a paperback of Narcissus and Goldmund flaunted itself at me today as I left the store on my way via subway to a meeting in Manhattan. I snatched it for reading material and went through forty or fifty pages over the next few hours. Although the comparison was on the fly, as it were, I did ascertain that the heroes of the Hesse book do not represent the future of the human race. Neither Narcissus nor Goldmund is capable of forming a lasting bond with a flesh-and-blood woman—Narcissus not even trying and Goldmund going from one to the next until he grows old, sick and tired. The hero of The Boatmaker, by contrast, manages to forge a relationship, for keeps it would seem, and yet also finds his freedom.”
– Jonas Kyle, co-owner of Spoonbill and Sugartown Books, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The Boatmaker is a wonderful novel–wonderful as in spectacularly good and wonderful as in full of wonders. There are echoes of our own time and of older times; it is set in a very intelligently imagined country, a mirror of our Western world and its evils and virtues rather than a fantasy land.”
– John Casey, author of the National Book Award-winning Spartina