While in rehab, John writes to his old crew buddy, Rob, and alludes to a tragic event that took place while they were at school. Upon receiving the letter, Rob is taken back to his days at Fenton, an upscale boarding school where he rowed on the school’s elite, four-man crew team. In this beautifully dark drama, Irwin artfully weaves a tale that shifts back and forth in time from Rob’s crewing days at Fenton to his present life as a filmmaker for National Geographic. The structure of the story—starting at the end and slowly unraveling the events that lead up to the climax—helps create tension and propels the reader forward, seeking to discover what went so terribly awry. The characters are well drawn and complex. Rob is a flawed but ultimately sympathetic man who habitually flees from situations that he can’t handle emotionally. Rowing plays a critical element in the book, but even those who are uninterested in the sport will find themselves gripped by this compelling story of coming to terms with the past. —Eve Gaus
The son of a working-class cabinet maker, Rob Carrey arrives on the prestigious Fenton School’s campus with a scholarship to row…and a chip on his shoulder. Generations of austere Fenton men have led the four-man rowing team, commonly known as the God Four, to countless victories—but none more important or renowned than the annual Tuesday afternoon race in April against their rival boarding school, Warwick.
Before boats can be launched, Rob must complete months of grueling preparation driven by their captain Connor Payne’s vicious competitive nature. Payne is a young man so plagued by family pressure and uwillingness to lose that the lines between dedication and obsession are increasingly blurred. As the Warwick race nears, the stakes steadfastly rise, and tempers and lusts culminate until, finally, no one can prevent the horrible tragedy that ensues.
Now, fifteen years later, Rob is an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Returning home from a recent shoot in Africa, he arrives in New York City to clear out his shared apartment and end his heartbreaking relationship with his film editor and girlfriend, Carolyn. But when a phone call from one of the God Four compels him to attend the fifteen-year reunion at Fenton, Rob sees the invitation as an opportunity to confront the past and perhaps even steer his own life in a new direction.
Ron Irwin’s Flat Water Tuesday shares in the grand tradition of sagas about athletic young men on the brink of greatness, who either embrace their talent or are devastatingly consumed by it. As much about the art of rowing as it is a novel of finding oneself, this is a memorable and deeply moving testament to what it means to train and fight for both love and victory, in sport and in life.
About the Author
Ron Irwin is an American writer who divides his time between Cape Town, South Africa and various places in the United States. He grew up in Buffalo, New York, where he learned to row. He attended boarding school and college in New England, where he was part of a number of winning crews. He has worked as a journalist, a documentary filmmaker, and as a teacher. He lectures in the Centre for Film and Media at the University of Cape Town.
Flat Water Tuesday – an interview with Ron Irwin for the prestigious Litnet Magazine.