My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A drunken Mr. Unguentine falls from the railing of the barge, thus ending a forty year marriage that began with a night of love on a catamaran and was consecrated via Transatlantic cable. He and Mrs. Unguentine, who narrates the story, have lived on their married life on the barge, sailing the seas to avoid extreme seasons, and after the first few years never touching land. Mr. Unguentine takes charge of navigation while Mrs. Unguentine tends to their world where the composting garbage provides the basis for a Garden of Eden with fruit trees and Mrs. Uguentine's livestock. Early on they make contact with other ships and even become a sort of seafaring tourist attraction. All that fades and they spend their time speaking little and tending their domed garden. Mrs. Unguentine sums up their existence nicely not quite halfway through the short novel. "All I know," she writes, "it had been a long and exhausting decade."
As the comedy becomes bleaker and veers into nightmare, it is the density of Mrs. Unguentine's voice that keeps you on the barge. The barge provides the Unguentine's with whatever they need, although where supplies come from is not clear. She tells us early on that she would dance strip tease for the custom officials while her husband dealt in contraband elsewhere on the barge. But decades pass, all contact with the outside world vanishes, and yet building supplies and food are never in demand. They live their lives in a complete and miserable world of their own making.
Describing The Log of the SS The Mrs. Unguentine as the story of a bad marriage does it little justice. It is a literary construction as complex and fantastic as the glass dome with sailing mechanisms Mr. Unguentine buids to power the voayge. When that structure crashes down, Crawford propels his characters into an even more fantastic realm than that he has created for their forty year marriage.
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