Blue Water: A Novel
by A. Manette Ansay

Published: 2009-10-06
Kindle Edition : 304 pages
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From New York Times bestselling author A. Manette Ansay comes an unforgettable story of two families united by tragedy -- and one woman's deeply emotional journey toward a choice she'd never thought possible.

On an ordinary morning in Fox Harbor, Wisconsin, Meg and Rex Van Dorn's lives are ...

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From New York Times bestselling author A. Manette Ansay comes an unforgettable story of two families united by tragedy -- and one woman's deeply emotional journey toward a choice she'd never thought possible.

On an ordinary morning in Fox Harbor, Wisconsin, Meg and Rex Van Dorn's lives are irrevocably altered when a drunk driver -- Meg's onetime best friend, Cindy Ann Kreisler -- slams into the Van Dorns' car, killing their six-year-old son, Evan. As Meg recovers from her own injuries, she and Rex are shocked when Cindy Ann receives a mere slap on the wrist. In their rage and grief, they buy a boat to sail around the world, hoping to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Cindy Ann. But when Meg returns to Fox Harbor for a family wedding, she's forced to face the complex ties that bind her to the woman who has destroyed her peace.

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Chapter One

Forget what you've read about the ocean. Forget white sails on a blue horizon, the romance of it, the beauty. A picnic basket in a quiet anchorage, the black-tipped flash of gulls. The sound of the wind like a pleasant song, the curved spine of the coast --

-- no.

Such images belong to shore. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the sea.

Imagine a place of infinite absence. An empty ballroom, the colors muted, the edges lost in haze. The sort of dream you have when you've gone beyond exhaustion to a strange, otherworldly country, a place I'd visited once before in the months that followed the birth of my son, when days and nights blurred into a single lost cry, when I'd find myself standing over the crib, or rocking him, breathing the musk of his hair, or lying in bed beside Rex's dark shape, unable to recall how I'd gotten there. As if I'd been plucked out of one life and dropped, wriggling and whole, into another. Day after day, week after week, the lack of sleep takes its toll. You begin to see things that may or may not be there. You understand how the sailors of old so willingly met their deaths on the rocks, believing in visions of beautiful women, sirens, mermaids with long, sparkling hair.

The crest of a wave becomes a human face, openmouthed, white-eyed, astonished. The spark of a headlight appears in the sky, edges closer, fades, edges closer still. There's a motion off the bow, and I clutch at the helm, catch myself thinking, Turn!

But, eventually, I learn to let my eyes fall out of focus. Blink, look again. Wipe my sweating face. There is nothing out there but gray waves, gray waves.

Clouds. A translucent slice of moon.


We alternated watches, Rex and I: four hours on, four hours off. We had a ship's clock that rang out the hours. We had charts and a sextant, a handheld GPS. We had an outdated radar system; we had a small refrigerator, a water maker, clothing and books sealed in plastic wrap. We had five hundred pounds of canned goods, nuts, dried fruit and beans, powdered milk.

We had a ship's log, where we jotted down notes: latitude and longitude, course and speed, wind direction, weather, unusual observations.

We had a float plan, which we left with my brother, Toby; he posted it in the fish store, on the bulletin board behind the cash -register. People stopped by with farewell gifts: cookies sealed in Tupperware, a book of crossword puzzles, religious cards, funny cards, cards simply wishing us well. Everyone in Fox Harbor knew why we were leaving, of course, and this was another reason why I'd agreed to rent our house and move onto the sailboat Rex had bought in Portland, Maine. Our first destination was Bermuda, our ETA three to five weeks. From Bermuda, we'd continue southeast to the Bahamas, island-hop down to the Caicos. Perhaps we'd -winter over in Puerto Rico. Or perhaps we'd cross the ocean to Portugal -- who could say? We might even head to Panama, pass through the canal, find our way north along the coast to the Mexican Bajas. So much depended on weather, on wind. On our own day-to-day inclinations.

The plan, Rex liked to tell people, is not to have a plan.

It had always been Rex's dream to live aboard a sailboat, and Chelone was exactly the boat that he had wanted. A blue water boat, he called her. A boat built to sail around the world. He'd grown up on Cape Cod, sailing with his father; at twenty, he was captain of his college sailing team, and before heading west to Madison for law school, he'd worked as a mate aboard a private schooner, cruising the Virgin Islands. On cold winter nights as we lay in bed, listening to the east wind screaming off Lake Michigan, he'd tell me about the islands he'd seen, casuarina trees and pink sand beaches, sailboats at anchor outside each rustic harbor. Passing these boats, you'd see dogs racing from bow to stern, bicycles lashed to the safety lines, laundry fluttering from the rigging. Entire families spent their whole lives just cruising from place to place, dropping anchor wherever they chose. No bills to pay, no responsibilities. You didn't like your neighbor, no problem, you sailed away.

Maybe, he'd whisper, his breath warm against my neck, we could do the same thing someday.

I like our neighbors fine, Rex.


I am serious.

At the time, I couldn't imagine saying good-bye to Toby, to my friends at the accounting firm where I worked, to our fieldstone house overlooking the lake, to the small, Wisconsin town where I'd been raised. Still, after years spent trying to conceive a child, after the shots and surgeries, the herbal teas, the special masses; after trying to adopt the infant of a teenage girl who changed her mind, I started to pay more attention whenever Rex talked about heading to sea. I leafed through his copies of Practical Sailor, his scrapbook of sail plans and hull designs. I studied the glossy brochures he -received from boat builders around the world. I'd always enjoyed sailing, and though I'd only sailed on the Great Lakes, I figured that the ocean couldn't be all that different. Water was water, after all. You wore a life jacket. You learned to hang on.

Then, one week before my fortieth birthday, I discovered I was pregnant with Evan. After eleven years of marriage, we were -finally -- unexpectedly -- about to have a child. Our plans no longer belonged to us, and the truth was that we gave them up eagerly. We wanted to make sacrifices. We wanted to shake our heads ruefully, saying, But then we had the baby so we couldn't . . .

Six years later, our lives changed again, when Evan was killed in a car accident involving someone I'd known since grade school. Someone whose birthday parties I'd attended. . . .

The foregoing is excerpted from Blue Water by A. Ansay. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022 view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Based on her demeanor at the scene of the accident and her behavior throughout Blue Water, how would you describe Cindy Ann Kreisler, the woman responsible for Evan Van Dorn’s death?

2. What role does the small-town atmosphere of Fox Harbor play in Rex and Meg Van Dorn’s decision to seek time at sea on their sailboat, the Chelone?

3. What aspects of life on the Chelone draw Rex and Meg closer together, and what aspects push them further apart?
How does Toby’s relationship with Mallory Donaldson, Cindy Ann Kreisler’s sister, complicate the Van Dorns’ decision to seek legal damages from Cindy Ann?

4. How does Cindy Ann’s sexual abuse by her stepfather, Dan Kolb, impact Meg’s feelings about her son’s killer?
In what ways does Meg’s budding friendship with Bernadette Hale and her invalid son, Leon, transform her feelings about seeking revenge and granting forgiveness?

5. To what extent is Evan’s accidental death the cause of the deterioration of Rex and Meg’s marriage?
What explains Meg’s decision to befriend Cindy Ann Kreisler on her return to Fox Harbor, and how does this decision impact her
relationship with Rex?

6. How would you describe Meg and Rex’s methods of grieving over the course of Blue Water?

7. At the end of the novel, what does the birth of Toby and Mallory’s daughter, Sadie, represent to Meg?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Q. Blue Water grew out of your own adventures at sea on a 38-foot sailboat. At what point did you realize your experiences on the water would lead to your next novel?

A. Each time I do something that’s even a little bit out of the ordinary, there’s a part of my brain—let’s call it “the accountant”—that pipes up and says, “Maybe you can use it.” Well, for me, this is the kiss of death. It’s one thing to do research in support of a genuine curiosity

or passion; it’s quite another to go out in the world in order to “use” life, rather than to participate in it. Yet the idea is, at times, very tempting, particularly when everyone you know is saying, “Why on earth are you moving onto a sailboat? You can barely dog-paddle!” So I told people I was writing a novel set on a sailboat, but, actually, I was getting very little done because either we didn’t have enough battery power to run both a computer and the refrigerator, or else something would break and we’d be reading technical manuals, or else other cruisers would happen by, or else I’d just be so exhausted and sunburned and hot and itchy that the idea of writing seemed about as appealing as, I don’t know, stripping more teak. Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d never even write a story set in a swimming pool. It was after I moved off the boat, during the summer of 2002, that I first heard Meg’s voice in the opening paragraphs of the novel. It was a first person voice that, I realized, might earn the capacity to encompass—and reveal—the voice of another character

as well. I love books in which traditional conceptions of the first person point of view get stretched, augmented, modernized.

Q. You’ve written that only ten paragraphs of your

original draft of Blue Water remain in the finished novel. Why do you think this novel was so difficult for you to write?

A. I wrote most of the first draft of Blue Water while I was pregnant. During the second trimester, I developed diabetes and insomnia, and I couldn’t remember anything I’d written even five minutes earlier, so that was part of it. At the same time, I was also more physically active than I’d been in years, so there were lots of temptations—so many pleasures!—that, in the past, hadn’t ever been out there for me. An example: these days, I love to go for a walk every evening after I put my daughter to bed. Once, I wouldn’t have gone for a walk. Or, for that matter, had anybody other than myself to put to bed. I would have simply kept the computer on all day and into the evening: writing and resting, thinking and writing, writing and listening to books on tape. My husband and I used to spend entire weekends this way: he would be working on a software design, and I would be working on a novel chapter. This is not the way you live when you have an active two year old!

I suppose, too, that I was struggling to process how rapidly my life had changed. At thirty-five, I was using a scooter to cross a city block. I typed with braces on my elbows and wrists. I had eyestrain which made it impossible to drive, to read or write for any length of time. Then, at thirty-eight, I found myself living a relatively unrestricted life. There were all these possibilities. I didn’t know what to do first.

Finally, there was the experience of having a child—a healthy child—who suddenly is wired to a heart monitor you have to carry everywhere. I didn’t write at all, really, for the year after Genevieve was born. Her heart murmur resolved but my anxiety didn’t. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I felt like I couldn’t wake up. Eventually, I accepted a teaching job at the University of Miami. The director of the MFA program is Maureen Seaton, this incredibly brilliant and energetic poet, and I sat in on some of her graduate poetry classes. Things began to click. Also, I had the good fortune to have really terrific students. Teaching is always inspiring, stimulating.

Q. As someone who confronts a chronic medical condition,

are you especially drawn to metaphors of illness in your fiction?

A. Actually, I really dislike so-called “metaphors of illness” because they often result in stereotypes that make it hard for disabled people—particularly those with visible disabilities—to live in the world as concrete beings, individuals, rather than symbols of (other people’s) fears or fetishes or over-idealized hopes. I would hope that a character like Leon, for example, is first and foremost a flesh-and-blood child, a beloved son, rather than a metaphor for some abstract, external concept such as courage, sorrow or—heaven forbid—weakness.

Q. Much of your fiction is set in Wisconsin, where you grew up. How did the constantly-shifting setting of Blue Water challenge you as a writer?

A. It was a terrific challenge, in some ways, but it was wonderfully liberating in others. I couldn’t rely on landscape to provide the stability that it has in my earlier books, a kind of mounted mirror in which each character can return to study his or her own face. On the other hand, I got to write more extroverted, dialogue-driven interactions between my primary characters: Meg and Rex; Meg’s brother, Toby; Cindy Ann Kreisler. And then, of course, when Meg returns to Wisconsin,

I had that fabulous winter landscape back on the page, all that clean, white space, and I was amazed to see the ways in which it paralleled the open ocean. There’s this wide sense of possibility and promise coupled with an incredible awareness of one’s human vulnerabilities, one’s isolation. One wrong move can kill you.

Q. You’ve described your next project as an historical novel. Can you give your readers a preview of what to expect?

A. Not exactly. I’m kind of superstitious about work in progress—if I talk about the plot, it changes out of spite. But I can tell you that, while I was living on the Chelone, I got very interested in domestic life aboard sailing ships, especially during the time period just before the transition to steam. It happened after my good captain and I dropped anchor in Fernandina Beach, Florida, thinking we were just going to spend the night, before heading toward the Chesapeake. Then Jake discovered cracks in the whisker poles (if you’ve already read Blue Water, this will sound familiar) so we wound up spending quite a bit of time in town, waiting for parts to arrive. One day I wandered

into an amazing used book store that had a number of books by the maritime historian Joan Druitt. I’d never known that sailors had taken their wives to sea, and I began reading anything and everything that had to do with women’s experiences on the water. Now that I’m looking out for the topic, I’m finding it everywhere. I recently re-read Jane Austen’s Persuasion, set in the early 1800s, and there is Admiral Croft’s wife, talking about going with her husband to sea.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "A couple's son is killed in a car accident in a small town..."by pamg2002 (see profile) 10/09/07

This book was very difficult to get through. It didn't hold my attention and I felt no connection or sympethy towards any of the characters.

  "Very slow moving..."by stefanieapplegate1 (see profile) 09/24/07

I did not enjoy this book. It was very slow to get through. Three of the five members of our club disliked it and two thought it was just OK. I had a hard time relating to the characters.... (read more)

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