Amity Gaige’s fourth novel tells the entrancing story of Juliet and Michael Partlow. As their marriage stalls after two children and relative normalcy in suburbia, Michael has a wild idea to take the whole family aboard a boat and sail for a year. Juliet, entangled in postpartum depression and unable to muster the strength to finish her dissertation for her Ph.D., begrudgingly agrees to the adventure.
The structure of the novel is a duet between Michael and Juliet, with Juliet’s lyrical, rhythmic first-person narration driving the story forward. She is a student of confessional poetry, and she is transfixed by the wind and its many faces. Entries from Michael’s captain’s log while aboard the Juliet weave throughout, veering more toward a diary. He journals about his childhood, his father’s early death, his initial attraction to Juliet and their problems as a couple.
This marriage isn’t perfect, and it’s debatable whether Michael and Juliet are running from their problems or tuning in to fix them. But the sea opens up an avenue toward peace, with unending amounts of water to dump their minds into.
Unafraid and perhaps unaware of all that could possibly go wrong, Michael and Juliet’s daughter, Sybil, easily trades Barbie houses and elementary school for seashells and bottle caps. Their younger son, Georgie, called Doodle, watches Sybil and mimics her. When the sea brings squalls, Juliet and Michael must learn to communicate and come together on a whole different level.
With taut prose and well-paced action, Sea Wife provides an excellent escape from reality while exposing universal truths about marriage, motherhood and childhood trauma. In a world where so many “shoulds” are thrown upon mothers, this story’s mother does her best to be honest. While in the beginning Juliet gives away too much of herself in service of her family, the sea and her sailing adventure bring forth her confidence and free her from traditional gender roles.
The sea changes this family. They cannot go back to the lives they had before. Sea Wife is brilliant, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful.
Susan Choi interviews Amity Gaige about Sea Wife on The Millions: https://themillions.com/