Rating: 2 stars
No novelist alive knows the human heart better than Scott Spencer does. No one tells stories about human passion with greater urgency, insight, or sympathy. In A Ship Made of Paper, this artist of desire paints his most profound and compelling canvas yet.
Daniel Emerson lives with Kate Ellis and is like a father to her daughter, Ruby. But he cannot control his desire for Iris Davenport, the African-American woman whose son is Ruby’s best friend. During a freak October blizzard, Daniel is stranded at Iris’s house and they begin a sexual liaison that eventually imperils all their relationships, Daniel’s profession, their children’s well-being, their own race- blindness, and their view of themselves as essentially good people.
A Ship Made of Paper captures all the drama, nuance, and helpless intensity of sexual and romantic yearning, and it bears witness to the age-old conflict between the order of the human community and the disorder of desire.
Overall, A Ship Made of Paper was an okay read for me. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t necessarily enthralled by the story and characters either.
The main plot centers on Daniel Emerson, a lawyer who moves back to the small town he grew up in with his girlfriend Kate Ellis and her daughter Ruby. While back at home, he meets Iris Davenport, an African-American woman whose son is best friends with Ruby. He becomes deeply attracted to Iris Davenport and begins to explore a deeper relationship with her one snowy night in October when a blizzard traps them inside her home. But this secret relationship ends up affecting every aspect of their lives.
What I enjoyed about the story was the writing. It was very descriptive to the point where I felt like I was right in the story as these events transpired. I especially enjoyed seeing the dialogue in the story because it brought the characters to life even better for me.
What I also enjoyed when reading A Ship Made of Paper is the variety of topics that can be discussed when it comes to this book. These topics include racism, sexual desire, infidelity, interracial relationships, justice (these events take place around the time of the OJ Simpson trial), alcohol addiction, and pedophilia (one of the married characters in the story is in love with a blind girl who he’s fancied since she was a child).
I feel like each of these aspects was wonderfully woven into this story through some of the characters who in some ways represent one of these topics. For example, Daniel’s girlfriend Kate Ellis is a writer who to me seems like a good example of what racism and alcohol addiction look like. She denies being racist (of course), but is convinced that OJ Simpson is guilty and writes about the trial throughout the story. She also calls the police when two boys brake into her home during the storm and is convinced that the boys who broke into her home are the recent prisoners who escaped from jail in the story, despite not at all getting a glimpse of their appearance. She also drinks heavily throughout the book, doesn’t matter what’s going on in her life. She always finds a reason to drink even when her relationship with Daniel is starting to fail. She’s a wonderful example of what racism and alcohol addiction look like and I feel like I can see other topics of discussion through all the other characters too.
While I enjoyed reading A Ship Made of Paper because of the writing and the different topics that can be discussed, there are a whole lot of things I overall don’t like about this story that make it difficult to give it a higher rating. While I enjoy the way the story is written, I found the pace and plot of the book to move very slow. It made reading this book all the more difficult for me because I kept waiting for the plot in the story to move along, to reach a climax that made me reading this book worthwhile. But the story kept disappointing me again and again. There were only two moments in the story that really made me want to continue reading to see what happened next: the night of the blizzard and the night when Marie Thorne goes missing. But even that was short lived for me, especially the night when Marie Thorne goes missing, because excerpts of what happens during the search for her are at the beginning of each chapter. So even the most exciting parts of the book become mundane for me because I already catch a glimpse of what’s going to happen even if I don’t get to see all of it.
I also don’t like that none of these characters are at all relatable to me. I especially don’t understand Daniel and his stalker-like behavior towards Iris Davenport, the woman he desperately wants to be with despite already being in a committed relationship with Kate Ellis. His behavior throughout the book screams creepy to me when it comes to Iris, and I found the way he felt about her was more sexual desire than actual true love. The only time I ever believe their relationship to be real at all is whenever they both have serious discussions about what they’re doing. Otherwise, I’m not really convinced that their loving relationship will last. It just seems like a fantasy relationship to me throughout with nothing substantial holding them together. I know a lot of it has to do with them both being unfaithful to their partners. I guess I just don’t understand why someone who’s already in a relationship would stay with their partner if they knew they were developing feelings for another person.
The biggest criticism I have for A Ship Made of Paper is the last half of the book after Marie Thorne goes missing. It felt as if the plot after this point in the story took a complete nosedive, leaving the reader feeling confused about what’s going on. While I understood what happened that changed everything, I feel almost as if this part of the story was a whole lot worse than the first half of the book, which wasn’t that much better either. While I liked that the end of this book was ambiguous, the rest of the story just lacked any sort of plot. We know Daniel feels guilty about Hampton’s condition, but the way Scott Spencer decides to take the story with him wasn’t at all an improvement. And then I felt like the robbery at the bar didn’t really add anything to the story because everyone then screamed they were robbed by black people. So all it did was show the prejudice of these characters, that they haven’t at all changed since the beginning of the book started.
So overall, A Ship Made of Paper was an okay read for me. I liked that there are a variety of topics that can be discussed when it comes to reading this book, but the plot of the story isn’t something to boast about. The book was fascinating enough to read, but not a story that I’ll reread anytime soon.