To Build a Ship
Ben Thaler arrives at Tillamook Bay on the Oregon coast in the spring of 1851. He is looking for a place to plant roots. As he assimilates into the community, he realizes it is the place of his dreams. Over the next few years, the isolated settlement thrives because of an annual trading visit from Captain Means and his sloop. One spring, news arrives that he has died, and no other traders will chance the bay’s dangerous breakers. The settlers decide to build their own schooner under the guidance of Sam, a former shipbuilder, who is a semi-recluse. Following Sam’s insistence on perfection, the community becomes obsessed with the ship’s construction. Then trouble appears. Their good relations with the natives are strained when Sam becomes madly infatuated with a young Indian woman. Next, there is a murder, and the idyllic community begins to unravel.
Berry’s simple, straightforward tale is about complex emotions. It shows how obsession, fantasy, betrayal, and brutality poison human dreams. First published forty years ago, this story is still a powerful indictment of enduring human folly.