#672 Coastal escapes and departures
Throw Mama from the Boat and Other Ferry Tales
by PJ Reece
Gibsons: Rolling West Productions, 2018
$16.95 / 9780995323537
Reviewed by Caileigh Broatch
PJ Reece’s book Throw Mama from the Boat: and other Ferry Tales promises to excite and explore with wild imagination from the word go. This is a collection of thirteen neatly compacted stories, each of them a journey — or a frolic — in a BC coastal rite of passage: travelling on a ferry on the south coast.
An avid traveller, Reece is presumably the inspiration for the constant travelling protagonist. Almost all the stories’ main characters think of ways to get away. They want to be set free, but they almost always return home — at least physically. Despite being set on the sea-bound ferries, these stories are also tethered to the land. Reece’s interest in travel washes through the pages with details of many Georgia Strait islands and with care for the insular landscape and archipelago.
The stories’ characters and plots are diverse and filled with crisp images and toned-down fables. To sit and linger in this magical realism, to notice ferries and passengers from stern to stern, is what Reece encourages throughout. The stories are built on simple, brisk writing. They can be enjoyed in public, on transit, or alone at home. To jump from one story to the next would be a disservice to the craftsmanship and the lingering ideas they evoke. All the stories will persist and evolve as you let them. The stories seem to invite the reader to understand humanity, the immensity of which, of course, can’t be contained in any book.
In the third story, “House on Fire,” Reece recounts with dark humour the impacts of strangers coming to each other’s aid. The five characters (protagonists and antagonists in their own stories) come together to aid an at-sea heart attack victim. Although we only get glimpses of their lives, the perspectives are folded on top of each other and reveal the cooperative impact of shared transport. The story contains a passage that sums up many stories in the collection: “Yes, nature had raged, lives went up in flames, dreams died and love was born. It was as good — or as grim — as any fairy tales you’d ever heard.”
The title story, “Throw Mama from the Boat,” doesn’t disappoint in significance but plays more on desire than on magical realism. The story offers the weakest ending, offering multiple outcomes. Missing people and missing mothers are tossed into the sea or vanish into the air — or perhaps they were never even missing. Even with the inconclusive ending, the writing is quirky and grim. For example: “That’s what old age looks like. Like you want to be shot.”
The concluding story, “Love Yourself,” disembarks from the previous chapters into a mantra of acceptance. In it the narrator, Howard, ventures forth to meet an unrequited love waiting for him reluctantly at a ferry terminal. Aboard the ferry, he observes proposals, births, the law of attraction, and perhaps even a newfound soul mate. This story is unlike the previous mystifying folktales in its lack of imagination. It is as straight and cut as Reece can manage in the collection — something he acknowledges in his closing postscript. “Love Yourself,” he writes, is based on his own life, on an event that happened to him “once upon a time,” and to the idea of self-acceptance it sparked in him. Reece returns to flights of fancy in his closing remarks, wondering what might have happened to Howard’s companion after he failed to show up at the ferry terminal.
Throw Mama from the Boat is a book about adventure, fate, and the marvels of the sea; things that we couldn’t possibly grasp without a little imagination. This is something PJ Reece has in spades, whether he dreamed up the situations himself or was inspired by the lore of the west coast as he traversed its waters — or inched along in a ferry line.
The stories are about misfits, loners, and people desperate to meet ferry schedules. They are filled with kingdoms built on the backs of whales or in the presence of shadow animals, impromptu wedding ceremonies, or people who simply disappear in transit. Hallmarks of the west coast litter the pages: fishing, seagulls, recognizable residents of coastal living, forest, and the rolling tides of the sea.
I appreciated Reece’s constant probing questions and his reluctance to answer them. He recreates life in these stories and, like life itself, he offers no easy answers. He encourages his characters and his readers to take a ferry crossing to find a change of heart or to find themselves. It’s amazing what one 40 minute crossing can do. Pay attention next time — and look for Reece’s seagulls especially.
Caileigh Broatch studies creative writing and journalism at Vancouver Island University, where she has been the feature editor of The Nav (The Navigator) since 2018, and was the managing editor of VIU’s Portal Magazine in 2018-19. Because she finds deep comfort in a love of books, she has pursued an internship with Nanaimo’s Window Seat Books. Her studies have taken her to investigate Canadian literature, gold panning, ghosts, and killer whales, among more traditional topics.
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