Juliet is failing to juggle motherhood and her anemic dissertation when her husband, Michael, informs her that he wants to leave his job and buy a sailboat. The couple are novice sailors, but Michael persuades Juliet to say yes. With their two kids, Juliet and Michael set off for Panama, where their forty-four-foot sailboat awaits them.
Sea Wife is a moody and compelling literary novel about the hidden depths of a marriage. It nods to, but does not fully embrace, the conventions of suspense ... It’s the intricate design of this tale—which Gaige pilots expertly—and its eloquent revelations about the inner workings of the Partlow’s relationship that distinguish Sea Wife, even as the voyage itself (in this case clinging to the coast of Central and South American, into the Caribbean) charts the familiar course of every sea narrative ever written ... To Gaige’s credit, the final resolution of the Partlow’s differences is achieved in a fashion that even the most sharp-eyed reader won’t be able to spot, looming in the distance.
... stunning ... Like an expert concierge, Gaige maps two journeys for readers—one into the distant past, leading us to difficult answers to Juliet’s questions, and the other following the family’s ambitious sailing expedition aboard a 44-foot boat ... The dysfunction makes for entertaining fiction. In fact, it made me feel smugly perky about the state of my own marriage ... Gaige has been towing you to tragedy with the graceful crawl of a poet and the motorboat intensity of a suspense author. And yet, when you find yourself at the deep end of this book, gasping for breath, you will still be shocked by what you find at the bottom ... I had one cantankerous quibble with Sea Wife: I wished Gaige had used quotation marks around her characters’ dialogue. Without them, it’s easy to lose your bearings—but maybe that’s the point of this book. Gaige tells the story of a family adrift, spun so thoroughly and vigorously out of their comfort zone that they eventually lose sight of the horizon. Finding out how—and whether—they find their way is worth some personal discombobulation, and it makes you appreciate the firm, familiar ground under your feet.
Gaige here fractures a single, suspenseful plot into multiple parts. In Sea Wife, she cuts between two first-person narratives, each amplifying and complicating the other ... Cutting between storylines generates narrative suspense ... It also allows for the interplay of two distinct voices and sensibilities ... The novel deftly grafts narrative mystery—what happened on that boat? What painful childhood memory is Juliet avoiding?—onto a sharp examination of domesticity ... Michael feels a victim, aggrieved against liberal culture ... This is all a bit heavy-handed. Trump has drawn latent white-male bitterness into the open, but not so suddenly or unexpectedly as Gaige suggests. Indeed, the novel thinks about politics most interestingly within Juliet’s section, where it’s largely subtext ... Gaige is a superb maritime writer. She writes beautifully about water and sky ... she makes sailing seem both an existential drama (when a storm hits, it’s like Lear on the heath) and a complex technical enterprise ... Americans dream of endless reinvention. Sea Wife shows the impossibility of such a dream[.]