Life’s tangles and bends

Review by Bob Muggleston

“Beyond Mermaids: Life’s Tangles, Knots and Bends”
by David H. Roper. Points East Publishing, Inc., 2021. 138 pp. $9.99.

As the editor of this magazine, reviewing a book that has been written by one of Points East’s columnists might seem a little subjective. But I am a lame duck, after all, and even good presidents have made questionable pardons on their way out. And besides, “Beyond Mermaids: Life’s Tangles, Knots and Bends” David Roper’s third work of creative writing, is mostly stories I know quite well because they’ve appeared in Points East. Wouldn’t that make me an expert on this collection, and aren’t we always seeking the advice of experts?

To go even further down the subjective rabbit hole, in full disclosure, I’ve been a big fan of Dave’s since I was an editor at “Cruising World” magazine 20 years ago. He was probably the author we published back then that I liked most. You can imagine how pleased I was to arrive at Points East and discover that he was a regular columnist. This was one of the first indications that I’d really like the gig here.

“Beyond Mermaids” is a murderer’s row of Dave’s stories, his “best of the best” columns that have appeared in the magazine, as well as a few short pieces of fiction. Regular readers will recognize titles like, “Rot in the Bullshead,” “Chang Ho’s Most Romantic Adventure,” “A Love Story and a Ghost Story,” and “When Zeus is Mad.” You’ll remember them: They’re about David’s young son “helping” him sell a boat, the same son’s clandestine pursuit as a teenager of romance on the family Cape Dory 25, a much-beloved co-worker’s untimely passing, and a night on a guest mooring to remember.

While boats are the framework around which Dave’s stories are hung, he’s always been more interested in people than things. He loves to showcase the behavior that makes us so interesting as humans – funny, sad, or somewhere in between – and maybe this is why his columns over the years have had such universal appeal.

Of all the pieces Dave’s written for Points East, the ones about his dad have, to me, always seemed the most poignant. In “Polysulfide,” he and his elderly father have gone to visit the spot where Phyllis, the wooden sailboat that Dave’s family grew up on, is rotting into the ground. It’s a raw March day, and Dave is sensing the bleakness of the moment, in which a son who’s no longer young is escorting his elderly father to a somber scene. Dave is in a bit of a mood. He tries to escort his father down a slippery path, away from the boat, but his dad stops them.

“Can you see it,” he asked.

“See what, Dad?”

“Even with her keel in the grave, it’s still there.”

“What’s still there?” I asked, shivering again and beginning to become frustrated. There was a slight edge to my voice. I looked hard, but all I saw was a neglected old boat, down on her luck and out of her element.

“The grace and dignity. There’s still such grace and dignity despite it all,” he said finally.

Grace and dignity, despite it all.

I took Dad’s arm and we headed home. Smiling.