Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Running with the Wind

Nell Stark
Bold Strokes Books
1933110708, $15.95

Sail away in Promising First Novel.

Running with the Wind is an engaging engrossing debut novel by Nell Stark. Corrie Marston, a graduate student in engineering, spends her summer teaching sailing in Rhode Island. Corrie is talented, intelligent, fit, good looking and very good at sailing--Olympic-class good. Denise Lewis was Corrie's crew for the Olympic trials. Their relationship was intense, exciting and closeted, as Denise wasn't ready to come out. Before long, Denise left Corrie for the security and validation of a heterosexual relationship with William, Corrie's brother. The siblings have always had a competitive streak but this blow created a rift between them. Since Denise and William's engagement, Corrie has shut off a great deal of her pain, anger and her capacity for love. She has "made a point to hook up with friends--not random, but no strings attached"(47).

Corrie is one of the most thoughtful and articulate depictions of a bisexual woman this reviewer can recall. As a friend of Corrie comments, "I get the feeling that gender doesn't really matter to her. That it's just another physical characteristic like body type or something"(48). Still, Corrie admits to herself that "seducing men made her feel powerful, somehow. Whereas women just felt good" (49). Some elements of Corrie's view might make readers uncomfortable. She has not dealt with the emotional scars from Denise's rejection and that has pushed Corrie into a patch of windless water where she is foundering.

Quinn Davies, an intelligent, shy, 27 year-old woman in vet school has been convinced by an old friend, Drew, to take sailing lessons this summer. Quinn's gift with animals results in her helping Corrie's dog, Frog when she has an accident. The event places the two women in more intimate surroundings than the marina. Aware of Corrie's approach to sex, Quinn, despite her attraction to Corrie, is careful. For Quinn, "The entire idea of casual sex-- even between friends--made her uncomfortable. Sex meant losing control, and losing control meant whoever you were with could really, truly see you. Not just physically because you were naked, but emotionally--and what if they didn't like what they saw? Even if they did, you could never take it back. Sex wasn't like blurting out a confession by accident that you could then pretend was a joke. It was permanent"(48). With this thoughtful self awareness, Quinn refuses Corrie's causal overtures.

When Corrie realizes that William and Denise will be sailing in the annual Regatta, she decides to court Quinn in a face-saving plan to prove that she can get a girlfriend. Despite her sexual experience, Corrie is the naive one in many ways and the leaks in this boat appear quickly as Corrie, whose observing ego is not very strong, begins to fall for Quinn. Yet the more "innocent" Quinn understands more of herself, Corrie, and the nature of love and loyalty. The two women will have to find winds of trust and love for the relationship to sail.

Appropriately, sailing is one of the characters of Running with the Wind. How Corrie, Quinn, William, and other characters approach and relate to the sport is fascinating and revealing. The race scenes, both impromptu and formal, kept this reviewer turning pages. Further, Stark uses the various characters' understanding of sailing to explain sailing elements without distracting the reader with details. Corrie's frame of reference for a great deal of life is sailing and her analogies are nautical. She understands the boats, the sails, the wind, the sea and her role as a sailor. Corrie finds solace in the power and non-judging challenge of the wind and the water.

Running with the Wind is a fast-paced read. Stark's characters are richly drawn and interesting. The dialog can be lively and wry and elicited several laughs from this reader. Like Kallmaker's All the Wrong Places, the discussions of the nature of sex, love, power, and sexuality are insightful and represent a welcome voice from the view of late-20-something characters today. Stark also captures lovely, intimate, and vivid moments such as, "Corrie remembered how smooth and soft [Denise's] eyebrows had felt as she traced them with one forefinger in the aftermath of their lovemaking" (14). The love scenes between Corrie and Quinn are erotically charged and sweet.

Running with the Wind is a wonderful debut novel which holds great promise. It's a touching romance with lively, realistic characters in an interesting setting. This reviewer looks forward to reading Stark's future stories and in the meanwhile, recommends readers pick up a copy and set sail.

-MJ Lowe