A Gift From My Past: Compass Rose

Sitting in my green leather armchair, I turned the last leaf of an honest paper book last night, Compass Rose, by John Casey, beautifully made by Knopf.  It is the sequel to a novel Casey wrote over twenty years ago, Spartina (1989), about a Rhode Island fisherman who builds his own fishing boat.  Spartina won the National Book Award.

I read Spartina because Donald Abrahamsen, who came to my bookmobile stop at Chaires, had requested it and recommended it to me.  Like the characters in Casey's novels, Mr. Abrahamsen was a New England Yankee.  If you asked him how he did, he would always say "nevah bettah!"  He had "Yankee ingenuity", and could make almost anything of wood or metal.

Mr. Abrahamsen had sailed a boat to Brazil, where he ran a factory that manufactured screws, and where he took a Brazilian wife of good family, lovely Cecilia.  He had owned an Indian motorcycle.  He was a mysterious man.  I imagined that he might have been in the OSS during WWII.  He would only read novels written by men.  The Australian Jon Cleary and Nevil Shute were two of his favorites.

He invited R. and me to supper once.  He had built his own house, out off of Miccosukee Road past the Interstate 10 crossover.  He gave us a tour of his formidable woodworking shop with its saws and lathes.  He had built the house into a hillside, with the sleeping quarters eccentrically on the first floor, (where they would be cooler), and the living spaces above.  After supper, we four sat in their very formal parlor on the second floor to talk.  It had dark furniture and red walls, with pictures in heavy, ornate frames.  Old World.

I had to fight for Compass Rose.  It  was thought John Casey's other novels had not circulated well enough.  I put in my own request for it, with the memory of Mr. Abrahamsen in the back of my mind.  One copy.

When it came down on hold for me I only felt obliged to read it.  But when I began to taste it, I realized I was in for a profound reading experience.  Compass Rose is full of earned truth and arresting description.  I was so caught up and moved by the end that I read the first couple of chapters again, and have not wanted to start another book for a few days, to savor the echoes of it in my mind.

Dominique Browning wrote a good review for the NYT, The Lay of the Land.  But read Spartina first.  I am going to have to read Spartina again.

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