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Originally published Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 6:16 AM

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‘The Plover’: buckets of trouble on the open sea

Portland author Brian Doyle’s latest novel, “The Plover,” follows an eccentric cast of characters as they wrestle with the elements and their own troubles.


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‘The Plover’

by Brian Doyle

Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 312 pp., $24.99

At the end of “Mink River,” Portland author Brian Doyle’s wonderful, quirky debut novel set on the Oregon Coast, Declan O Donnell sets sail in his old fishing trawler, “Plover,” for a solo sojourn on the open sea. Declan’s intent is simple: “glom on to the 45th parallel and ride that sucker” west.

No expectations; no illusions. “We are stripping things down to the bones here,” Declan tells his sole shipmate, a sea gull who has taken up residence on the cabin roof.

But events soon conspire to shatter Declan’s solitude and plunge him into the depth of human drama. Ashore on Kaua’i, Declan meets his old friend Piko and his paralyzed young daughter Pipa (the victim of a school-bus accident). They join him on board; a storm ensues, and the meditative story of a young man and the sea erupts into a classic sea tale.

Conrad, Stevenson and Jack London come to mind, but so does the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez.

Frightening encounters with a tramp freighter and its dangerous captain put the “Plover” and its crew on heightened alert. The inability of civil authorities on land to help pit Declan and crew against an unknown foe. Meanwhile an eccentric cast of characters flock to the “Plover” like gulls to a buoy. Their personal stories and ultimate transformations present a moving counterpoint to Declan’s looming troubles.

Most delightful is Pipa, the disabled girl, who despite her inability to speak communicates easily with the birds that continually surround her.

Doyle is sparing with the fanciful flights that enlivened “Mink River.” But magic appears effectively at critical points in the narrative, and “The Plover” sails delightfully on an imaginative sea of insight, compassion and a kind of mystical grace.

Olympic Peninsula author Tim McNulty’s latest book is the poetry collection “Ascendance” (Pleasure Boat Studio).



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