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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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