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The Rope Eaterby Ben Jones
Synopses & Reviews
There was a day my heart did not beat. Sometimes I wonder what day it was exactly that it began, a day when there was peace, when peace was possible, the day that peace ended. It is, of course, a day I cannot remember--a faint cleaving in the red darkness, when my heart welled up and drove me squalling into the world.
My heart has troubled me ever since, shuddering me through my days, too strong for its casing. It is not the seat of passionate loves and great despairs--I wish it were. It is simply too strong, a brute muscle whose pounding has kept me awake nights, shaking my bed and rattling the glass on my nightstand.
I grew up in a small town, in a small house with a church on a rise next door. In the evening, the long shadow of its spire fell over our house. My parents were hardworking and unremarkable people who seemed to live baffled by their lives. My father stood on the porch every year as the first snow fell, as amazed as if he were seeing it for the first time. My mother would lift up her eyes from the table for a moment, then duck her head again quickly as if she'd be singed for looking too long. She was not meek, but rigidly contained, and she lashed out at impertinent variety--the weather, pass of days, other people. I was delivered in a stream of obscenities so thick that the midwife scolded her for it during the labor. They named me Brendan for my mother's father and Kane for my father, and neither name bespoke anything but a lack of imagination down through several generations. They had no other children, and even their intermittent attentions were smothering to me.
I took refuge for a time in a mossy library down the road from our house. It was all but abandoned, with shelves of moldering books that promised hints of life different from my own, but unmoored to it, as if under glass, with no means to reach its expanse from my own cramped days. As my heart grew stronger, those pages grayed and crumbled; the library musted and shrank until I too abandoned it.
When I was seventeen, the pound of my heart drove me out on a wet, fragrant spring day. There was still snow in the shadows of the hillsides, but the air was warm and sweet; the land was quickening and I knew if I stayed long, it would catch me and hold me for another summer, another fall, another year. I paused at the roadside, waiting for the tug of a restraint that did not come. South I drifted, blind to the land I moved through, south down fog-shrouded valleys, along a river, until I found myself at the edge of the ocean.
There I found work in a small tavern, where I passed an empty fall and a cold and empty winter. The tavern was grimy, and it stank; the tables were chipped and broken and graven with names on names. Business was good--sailors mostly, who kept me from seeing the sameness of that world, from feeling the sourness in me, the rise of bile, the staling air as the world pressed in.
Their bulbous mouths smiled wary smiles, flecks of grease trailing onto stained shirts as they enthusiastically wrestled bits of gristle from their teeth. I moved among them with loathing for myself and disdain for them, provoked by the heart that pummeled my chest. I boozed it quiet with beer and sweet West Indian rum, and I would sleep for a night, but it would rouse me again to spoiling meat still clutched in drunken hands--old men incontinent from their pleasures and clouds of regurgitation floating
Fleeing the horrors of the Civil War by deserting, Brendan Kane experiences New York City's draft riots and joins the oddball crew of the Narthex, an oddly shaped vessel, unaware that the ship's intended destination is a mythic temperate paradise in the heart of the Arctic ice. A first novel. Reprint. 10,000 first printing.
When Brendan Kane accepts a stranger’s offer of work--two years on a ship departing the following morning--the nature of the journey isn't divulged. It matters not, though, for Kane is directionless himself, having just witnessed the Civil War's horrors only to return North with nothing but the clothes on his back and as many dead soldiers' letters as he could carry in his pockets.
Aboard the mysterious Narthex, Kane meets a ramshackle crew that includes an eccentric doctor and a three-handed Muslim full of horrifying lore. Kane learns only that they're sailing for the Artic in search of gold or maybe whales. But when it turns out the Narthex's destination is a temperate paradise hidden amidst glaciers–a mythical place–Kane and his cohorts must struggle to survive not only the bleak Artic conditions, but the loosening grip on sanity of an egomaniacal captain and the data-obsessed doctor. With each second that passes, it seems increasingly unlikely any of them will get out alive.
About the Author
Ben Jones majored in English at Yale University and was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was an editor for the Adventure Library, where he edited classic tales of exploration. Jones lives with his wife and two young daughters in Bennington, Vermont, where he is the director of admissions for Bennington College.
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