The Pirate’s Daughter, Robert Girardi

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The Pirate’s Daughter, Robert Girardi, Delta, 1997, ISBN 0-385-31952-5, $11.95, 324pp.

I picked this up a year ago while browsing, intrigued by the cover and the title. It looked interesting, but I was reminded of my towering shelf of books to be read and so did not buy it then. The professor for my creative writing workshop class was going to be out of town for a class period, and announced that he was having a guest instructor for that class, who turned out to be Robert Girardi. The to-be-read shelf be damned, I like to know whose instruction I’m getting, so I went out and found this and his first novel, Madeleine’s Ghost.

The story here is fairly straight-forward: Wilson Lander is a young man with a sense of dread, unable to complete his doctorate in archaelogy, and is working in the big city as a clerk to his girlfriend. He stumbles upon Cricket Page, who leads him into an exotic adventure as a galley cook on a tychoon’s yacht called the Compound Interest. But Cricket is more than she seems (the title gives it away), and Wilson promises to be more than the nebbish than he initially seems.

I’m a pirate fan. There’s something about the outlaw on the sea that intrigues me more than an outlaw on the land. Two of my favorites in this area are Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides and A.A. Attanasio’s Wyvern. Long-time readers will remember a fairly lengthy discussion in 1992 or 1993 about Michael Scott Rohan’s pirate book, Chase the Morning. So I was predisposed to liking this book, even though this describes a modern day piracy.

And I did like this book a lot–up until a certain point, the break between sections five and six, where Girardi lost my sense of disbelief in what the characters actually do. The motivations of the characters in other sections are a little hard to believe, but from a steady diet of a slightly more fantastical nature leads me to extend a bit more leeway to an author. The manner in which the story is told is very movie-like, and it was no surprise to me to discover that Girardi is also a screenwriter.

After our class meeting, I talked with Girardi about his book. During class he had made a disparaging comment regarding “genre,” which seemed to me out of place, considering the fact that this book is basically an adventure story set in the modern era and his first novel is a ghost tale. His definition of genre (learned from his time at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I think) was books that are essentially adventure and nothing more. Of course, as a “fan” of science fiction, I have always used genre as the word to describe the marketing labels placed on the various “types” of fiction: mainstream, SF, mystery. Later in the semester, I discovered that there is a third usage of genre: describing the “forms” of written communication, i.e., poetry, fiction, essay, biography, advertising, etc. From all this I have deduced that genre is a highly overused word and I have made myself a resolution to discontinue its use, in an attempt to promote more understanding between the three camps that have adopted it into their discourse.

[Finished November 1998]

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