Saturday, November 23, 2013

Outerbridge Reach by Robert Stone, my thoughts

I read “Outerbridge Reach” by Robert Stone in 1999. The following are the thoughts I wrote at the time: Stone is a good writer, who draws you along, especially as he is building the story in the beginning about a disappeared financier and three Annapolis graduates whose careers have taken different paths. But then what appears to be a thriller/adventure story turns out to be very much a psychological examination of a couple with a marvelous life style, who don't appreciate what they have--neither of them--and in the search for something exciting and fulfilling, in the search for a grail, their world is destroyed. The hero Owen Browne goes on a round-the-world, solo sailor yachting race. Neither he nor his boat is equipped for the storms ahead. The boat is poorly made and almost breaks apart on him. He comes apart too. He decides to cheat by creating a false log that will lead the world to think he won the race. In the final analysis, he is too honorable to be a cheat and he commits suicide. But in committing suicide, he isn't facing his life; he is avoiding it. His teenage daughter early in the book is distant from him, and ends up recognizing him as a liar and holding him in contempt. His wife, Anne, is a drunk. While Owen Browne is wrestling with cheating, Anne does cheat. She goes to bed and falls in love with a scurrilous documentary film maker, a man without compassion or roots or any sense of honor. The book ends with Brown's deception being covered up--although eventually the story will come out--and with the film maker punished the best way possible--with the underlying material for his film destroyed. He is passionately in love with Anne who comes to realize what a scumbag he is and how continuing with him would drag her into his gutter world from her middle class, comfortable life. The book ends with Anne continuing the search for the grail. She sets out on a solo sail around the world. I had the sense the writer intended to develop the story around the three Annapolis classmates, then pulled back. He tells of one's alcoholism in passing later in the book. And he uses another's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to illustrate that he had the right stuff to survive a prolonged solo crisis that he didn't cheat by betraying his country. Meanwhile at home, the prison of war's wife almost lands in bed with Owen Brown, but both were too honorable, although sorely tempted, to cheat in those circumstances. That wife grows older, of course, and fatter, and years later in meeting Owen again is reminded of her temptation. I have to assume that the prisoner of war character was used to illustrate that men can stand up to tests, and that his wife was used to show that she stayed true in trying circumstances too. The underlying theme is cheating and the inability to face life as it is. In an afterthought, I realized that Owen Brown's character that shown through in the end--being unable to cheat--was illustrated early on when he was tempted to adulterate his friend's wife, but couldn't bring himself to do it. It would have violated his code of life.