"A Ship Made of Paper"
(reviewed by Jenny Dressel JAN 10, 2004)
Daniel Emerson has moved back to his hometown of Leyden, New York with his live-in girlfriend, Kate and her four year old daughter, Ruby. The town thinks he has returned to Leyden to be closer to his aging parents, but in reality, it is because Daniel has become scared of New York City. After being threatened by thugs, Daniel was almost killed when three black men pushed him down the stairs of his apartment building.
Daniel and Kate relocate to Leyden, a small town 100 miles north of New York City. He is practicing law, and Kate is a published author working on a new novel, and freelancing by writing articles on the O.J. Simpson trial.
All is well, except Daniel has fallen in love with one of Ruby's friends' mother, Iris Davenport. Iris seems to encompass all that Daniel has been missing in his thirty-six years. She is working on her master's degree at Marlow College, a local institution. Her husband, Hampton, is a highly successful investment banker in New York City, coming home only on the weekends to be with his family. The Davenports are the only African American family in Leyden.
"Daniel has been carrying the unwieldy weight of this desire for months now, and so far his behavior has been impeccable. When it comes to Iris the rules he has made for himself are simple: look but don't touch, long for but don't have, think but don't say. All he wants to do is be in the same room with her, see what she is wearing, see by her eyes if she has slept well, exchange a few words, make her smile, hear her say his name."
Then, during a freak October snowstorm, Daniel and Iris end up spending the night together. This sets off the series of events, which seem to affect this whole town. These two people are undeniably attracted to each other, and they can't think of anything but being together. Two responsible, mature adults seem to regress into self-centered adolescents. Daniel cruises by the Davenport home daily, even hourly at times. Iris sneaks out of her home to be with him. In this novel, lives are torn apart and families are broken. Two adults have this all-consuming need and can't find the control to rein it in.
The title of the book comes from the blues song Just To Be With You by Bernard Roth. Spencer puts the quote on the page after his dedication. "On a ship that's made of paper, I would sail the seven seas." Daniel and Iris' love is just as demanding, all-encompassing, dangerous, and life-threatening as the quote intimates, and Spencer shows us that through his narrative.
Scott Spencer is pretty amazing because I felt compassion for these characters. While I personally find what they do despicable, Spencer laid their case for "love" out there pretty completely, and I was hoping for them. At times, I was hoping they would grow up and come to their "rational" senses, and at other times I was hoping they would leave their families and live happily ever after.Scott Spencer has done a great job with this book. Serious romance would never be my top choice of reading material, but A Ship Made of Paper was nominated for a National Book Award, so I just had to read it. And while I may be a bit cynical when it comes to "uncontrollable desire," I believe that Scott Spencer believes in star-struck lovers, and he can paint a picture of it that is compelling and realistic. This book is a love story- while there may be other issues involved, this is basically a romantic's book. The last book I read by Spencer was Endless Love - I read it in high school, as it was THE movie at the time. A Ship Made of Paper is a grown up Endless Love, in my opinion. There is no denying it, Scott Spencer is a great author of love stories. The next time I need a "fix," I know where to look.
- Amazon readers rating: from 56 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from A Ship Made of Paper at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball (1973)
- Preservation Hall (1976)
- Endless Love (1979)
- Waking the Dead (1986)
- Secret Anniversaries (1990)
- Men in Black (1995)
- Rich Man's Table (1998)
- A Ship Made of Paper (2003)
- Willing (2008)
- Man in the Woods (September 2010)
Movies from Books:
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- Wikipedia page onfor Scott Spencer
- BrothersJudd.com review of Men in Black
- MostlyFiction.com review of Man in the Woods
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About the Author:
Scott Spencer was born in Washington, DC., in 1945, grew up in Chicago, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. He has taught at The Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and Columbia University. Scott Spencer is a two-time National Book Award Finalist; initially in 1981 for his novel Endless Love and recently in 2003 for his novel A Ship Made Of Paper. Two of his books, Endless Love and Waking the Dead have been made into movies. His short fiction has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, and Louder Than Words; his articles have appeared in The Sunday New York Times, Harper's, Esquire, The New Yorker, and Columbia magazines. He lives in upstate New York.