Sunday, February 15, 2015

Principles of Navigation by Lynn Sloan

Principles of Navigation is Lynn Sloan’s first novel and the influence of her training as a fine art photographer surfaces on each page. She offers a developing portrait of a marriage that evolves as would a print in a darkroom water bath. This particular marriage between Alice, a small town reporter, and Rolly, an art professor at an undistinguished Indiana college, is seen in separate shots of each character that together form an image of their changing lives.

The book opens with Rolly commenting on their wedding picture:

“We are perfect here, aren’t we?” That’s what Rolly had said not so long ago.

In the picture, they’re standing close, she and Rolly, facing the photographer, grinning at each other, giddy with happiness. She has her arm around his waist, and he towers over her, with his hand draped over her shoulder.  Sun slices through the glass wall behind them, lighting the top of her silly curls and glowing in the space between their tilted faces. The inclination of his head says he can’t imagine loving anyone else, and she shines back. Yes.”

When Alice achieves her goal of becoming pregnant, Rolly seems indifferent and they begin to drift apart and she starts questioning their planned sabbatical year in Norway. Rolly would have his art but she’d have no work and would be isolated.  When Alice miscarries, Rolly realizes that the baby meant more to him than he’d realized but Alice can’t bear to think about the happier times reflected in their wedding picture so she hides it away not even remembering where.

Later when she sees that Rolly has been using the baby’s intended nursery, she loses control:

“You have no right,” she said, over her shoulder, then turned to face him. He didn’t get it. His uncomprehending eyes searched hers.

“I’ve had it,” she said, stepping away from him onto something sharp. “You’ve got your damn studio out back.  You’ve got one at the college.  Isn’t that enough?  How much goddamn space do you need?  I can’t breathe in my own house, and now this.”

She pushed her hands at him, to make sure he didn’t come closer. “You spoiled this. This wasn’t supposed to be touched. Why did you set your crap up in here?  Just get out. Get the hell out.”  . . .

“I didn’t know. . .”

He knew. He didn’t care. His teary eyes were a pretense of caring. He tried to put his arms around her.

“Don’t touch me.” She slid down, pressing her back against the wall. “Get away from me.”

“I didn’t know.”  He knelt beside her.  “I was trying to keep the construction chaos contained.  It wasn’t a secret.” He spoke softly, murmuring that they’d try again, when her body was back to normal, when they were away from all this. “You’ll see.  In Norway, you’ll sleep late, drink lots of milk, and become a hausfrau.  We’ll make love all the time.  You’ll get pregnant.”

She hated him.

His fingers touched her cheek.  She raised her eyes to meet his. “I don’t know you anymore.”

“Alice, I’m sorry.  Come on now, come lie down.”

He had really never wanted the baby at all. This fact held her steady as she allowed him to guide her to their bedroom and lift her legs between the sheets and fold the blankets under her chin. Beneath his tenderness, she recognized treachery.”

As these two broken people make damaging decisions while struggling to find a way to either fix or abandon their marriage, Sloan’s evocative pictures of them and their lives, offer a new way of seeing ordinary people.  And then comes the unexpected twist and it’s a twist that makes this a novel that book clubs will find irresistible. Long after you read the last joyful paragraph, you’ll be talking about the ways these two unlikely characters found to navigate their lives.

Summing it Up: Step into Principles of Navigation, a stunning photograph of a marriage that debut novelist Sloan develops before your eyes.  Fall into the lives of two broken, imperfect individuals and stick with them as they find new ways to navigate the lives they’ve created so they can become whole. Select this for your book club and enjoy discussing the unexpected twists and turns that lead to the evolving image of an unconventional family.

(Note: this is a paperback original with a correspondingly low price making it an easy choice for book clubs.)

Rating: 4 stars   

Category: Fiction, Gourmet, Book Club

Publication date: February 15, 2015

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