American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

THE RAVEN (1995). Peter Landesman (1965- ) is a journalist and a painter whose first novel, The Raven, is based on written accounts of a historical tragedy off the southern coast of Maine. On 29 June 1941, thirty- six people aboard a forty-four-foot pleasure cruiser, the Raven, departed in deep fog from Rehoboth for a day of deep-sea fishing and picnicking in Casco Bay. They were never again seen alive, and the Raven was never found. Bodies of the fourteen women, charred and bloated, were eventually hauled up from the sea by a lobsterman and his nine-year-old son, as was the captain’s body, naked and roped to a cask. Bodies of the remaining men were not recovered. Landesman’s evocative and haunting account of the rumors and conflicting details surrounding the craft’s disappearance seeks to resolve the mystery fictionally.

Landesman’s immersion in the lore of the sea, his accurate regional geography, and his historical record give the work verisimilitude. His book is highly descriptive, with frequent nuance of color expressed in movement of waves and in interplay of light and fog. The sea itself—the most prominent feature of a poetic, yet realistic, drama—infuses the lives of all the inhabitants of the coastal town, from a college student who physically comes of age in a wooded swimming hole near Great Island, to the aged fishermen of Bailey Island who refuse to learn to swim because they know that battling the sea would prolong the agony of death by water. Another character, a hack historian, is modeled on the historical figure Edward Rowe Snow.* The narrative follows a half dozen such characters over forty-four years, whose lives the tragedy irrevocably changes; it ends with a flashback aboard the Raven in the voice of the captain, who helplessly observes the transformation of a pleasure party into chaos and death.

Jill B. Gidmark