This spare literary novel set in the year 1950 follows the destinies of two ships which meet in the perilous seas of the North Atlantic off the coast of Ireland. One is an English tramp which breaks apart. Nearby, an American liner sends out a desperate attempt at rescue for the five survivors. Driscoll is the officer at the helm of the rescue. He struggles with his own fears and memories of Isabel, a New York artist who is his lover, pulling him toward the land.
But land life is a grey mystery. Courage comes to full life on the sea, its stark coldness, isolation, tests of character, and unforgiving force. Cross narratives of Driscoll, Isabel, Captains Bride and Tyrrel and their crews join the relentless narrative heading for the disaster. This is almost an anti-historical historical novel, for these are men who live in an everlasting present, with only personal memory occasionally interrupting their powerful draw towards the salt water in their veins.
Author and former merchant mariner Littell’s mountainous waves and lashing sea become the overwhelming character in this stark hymn to the life of men and the sea.