Publishers Weekly, July 6, 2008

Every Boat Turns South J.P. White. Permanent, $28 (240p)

ISBN 978-1-57962-188-9 

      This stylish debut novel from poet White (The Salt Hour) brings to mind John D. MacDonald’s Florida noirs, but with a modern sensibility. In 1983, after a three-year absence, high school dropout Matt Younger, 30, returns to his parents’ cottage on Amelia Island, Fla. The family’s discontent stems from the earlier drowning of Matt’s older brother, Hale, the “family god.” Matt’s father, Jack, is dying of congestive heart failure while his mother, Emily, is exhausted from around-the-clock caregiving. Relieving his mother, Matt updates Jack on his shady adventures as the self-styled “king of all sailing fools.” Working as a skipper, Matt was hired to pilot a boat from Florida to St. Thomas and en route takes up cocaine running for drug lord Jimmy Q, eventually stealing $2 million worth of coke. But when he docks in the Dominican Republic for repairs, his real troubles begin, in the form of deliciously nasty femme fatale Jesse Dove and Matt’s love interest, local hooker Rosario Estrella. White’s vivid prose, layered plot line and detailed acumen of Caribbean sailing all boost his impressive yarn above run-of-the-mill noirs. (Sept.) 

  back to top

Small Press Review:

      When protagonist Matt Younger returns home after years of being ostensibly lost at sea in J.P White’s debut novel, Every Boat Turns South, he does so ensconced in “the musty tang of things growing and rotting in the same catch.” The moment, needless to say, is pregnant with ambivalence, and the tension between past and future, life and death, hope and despair is one that White develops beautifully throughout this emotionally intelligent tale of high-seas adventure. The novel is framed much like the classic Persian tale of One Thousand and One Nights. Rather than telling stories to keep himself alive, however, the protagonist is racing against the clock to make a full confession to his dying father; long regarded as the cause of his superstar brother’s death, Matt has been drifting for years, finding himself in one brand of trouble after another, with his nights usually ending up at the bottom of a bottle of a rum. Yet even as Matt flees from his past, the ghost of his brother is always nearby, haunting his every move. Hence the need for Matt’s confession: he wants to make a clean break with the past and start his life anew. Of course, such things are often easier said than done. 

      In addition to One Thousand and One Nights, Every Boat Turns South boasts a strong literary heritage. Hints of American classics ranging from Herman Melville to Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck saturate the novel, but perhaps the strongest connection I can make is to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, as the prodigal son returns home to make amends with his family only to be met with ongoing resistance. The big difference this time around, however, is that we finally get a chance to find out what the son was up to while he was gone, and Every Boat Turns South serves up the sin and misery in spades.   A gripping page-turner, Every Boat Turns South is the perfect antidote to the end-of-summer blahs. White’s gift for suspense is matched only by his lyrical facility with the language of the sea. Highly recommended.            
—Marc Schuster, Small Press Review

  back to top

From the Bookworm's Dinner:

Review-Every Boat Turns South, by J.P.White

Permanent Press, 240 pages, 1-57962-188-0 September 2009 

      Every Boat Turns South Every Boat Turns South is the story of two brothers. Hale the shining star with all the promise a parent could hope for and Matt his younger brother who lives in his shadow. One night ignoring his intuition, Matt follows his brother on a trip even though he feels a sense of foreboding. The dye is cast and the fate of Hale is sealed when the clandestine plan suddenly backfires.

      Unable to cope with the memory of his brother and the circumstances of his death Matt disappears. Three years later, Matt arrives on his parents’ doorstep looking like “something the raccoons forgot to eat.” He carries with him more baggage than the two plastic bags in tow with a readiness to unload his guilt. His father Skip is a skeleton of his former self. He is dying a result of congestive heart failure. He has tenaciously held on, unable to give up the ship.

      There is little doubt that his mom loathes rather than loves him for Matt has come home to tell Skip what really happened to Hale that night. He has come home to tell Skip about his adventurous trek of escape and survival.

      This may appear to some as a simple story of an adventurous drifter running from a lot of guilt and memories over his brother’s disappearance. However, it is more than simple, it is complex, an intricate composition of themes that twist around each other as you follow the undulating currents. The book is written in alternating narratives, one is Matt talking to his father, and the other is Matt’s journal or captain’s log. The characters never appear to be who they are, adding more mystery and intrigue. “ And sometimes I have seen what men have thought they saw.”

      White’s compass rose takes you on a meandering voyage that will keep you guessing until the last sail south. The poetic lyrical motion of White’s writing is spiritually uplifting with a lilting cadence. Reading is an effortless indulgence as his prose embraces the reader. With the skill of an artisan in Venice his imagery is precise beauty on paper intended to captivate the audience. Highly recommended.  Wisteria Leigh, Bookworm's Dinner. 

  back to top

Every Boat Turns South.

White, J. P. (Author)

Sep 2009. 240 p. Permanent Press, hardcover,  $28.00. (9781579621889). 

Thirty-year-old Matt Younger returns to his parents’ Florida home with a heavy heart. Guilt-ridden over the death, years earlier, of his brother, an Olympic-caliber swimmer, and over his recent unsuccessful stint as a boat captain, he’s come home to find redemption by sitting vigil at his father’s deathbed. He determines to tell his dad the truth, no matter how ugly, about the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death and his own desperate bid to make a killing by running drugs in the Turks and Caicos islands. As Matt spends night after night pouring out his story to his father, a veteran sailor himself, he tells of one

misadventure after another involving a loyal French mechanic and a hard-bitten criminal masquerading as a cook. He also reveals his love for a Dominican prostitute looking to escape her squalid life. First-novelist White’s lyrical style sometimes works and sometimes falters against the grittiness of his story. Still, lovers of the sea and adventure will appreciate the long, poetic passages paying tribute to the skills of a sailor and the dangers of deep water.  — Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist 

  back to top