The Surfacing

Written by Cormac James
Review by Ann Pedtke

Lieutenant Morgan is at the edge of the known world in 1850, with plenty of worries on his mind. His captain is driving their ship farther and farther north in pursuit of a reckless dream, threatening to trap the crew in the hardening ice as the Arctic winter approaches. His friend DeHaven, ship’s doctor, is spreading whispers of mutiny. And the letters that find their way through from home only serve to remind Morgan of the family obligations he hoped to leave forever behind.

When the ship makes port in Greenland to resupply, a bright spot enters Morgan’s life in the person of Kitty Rink, the governor’s sister. At once calmly practical and passionately daring, Kitty declares that she will accept any life except that of a spinster sister doomed to solitude in a northern outpost. When Morgan’s ship sails again, Kitty is on board as a stowaway—and once the ice has closed their route home, she reveals herself to Morgan with the news that she is pregnant with his child. However Morgan may have hoped to escape domestic responsibility, he now finds that he must navigate the dangers of the Arctic with more than one fragile life under his care.

The Surfacing is a rare blend of adventure narrative and literary fiction, survival story and philosophical musing. While the narrative occasionally wanders into dense sections—no quotation marks are used, giving every scene the contemplative sense of an internal monologue—the harsh realities and gruesome details of life and death in the far north remain at the fore. What emerges is a pure and transcendent vision of the joy of fatherhood—and the joy of learning to trust another person in the face of a future that may hold nothing but ice and darkness.