Book Review: A Stroke In Time
Ten months to Regatta Day, can John Whelan pull together one final crew in time to win the most important rowing race around in a country where rowing is not just a sport, but a way of life?
A Stroke In Time by Gerard Doran is the story of that famous crew from 1901, who came together from the tiny fishing village of Outer Cove, Newfoundland, Canada to set a record that would stand for almost a century.
Based on actual events, Doran, in his debut novel, introduces the reader to John Whelan, whose many victories at the Royal St. John's Regatta are the stuff of legend. Approaching age 40, Whelan has vivid memories of his racing days, but they are by now many years behind him. Yet a chance meeting in a St. John's tavern with a boastful member of a rival crew from the nearby village of Torbay is something Whelan can't let go.
With personal pride and the honour of their community in the balance, Whelan and experienced coxswain, Watt Power call a meeting of the best "b'ys" in Outer Cove.
To write the novel, Doran worked with a limited store of primary source material, so he drew on his own experience to masterfully weave together the rich local history along with personal tragedy and triumph. Doran recreates not just the hardships of life in a Newfoundland fishing town at the turn of the last century, but characters whose humanity resonates with an enchanting subtlety.
“These men had real rowing intelligence,” says Doran.“I wrote it to honour what they did. They were already recognised locally and in the (Royal St. John’s Regatta) as a great crew. I wanted to bring them back to life.
“I often thought that I would love to be in the kitchen in a corner listening to these people talk,” Doran says. "I would wonder what were they saying? What was their plan? Because everybody gets race jitters. It must have been incredible, unimaginable. And then to be so damned good; to be so fast.”
Despite the magnitude of their accomplishment, Whelan and his crew took their victory in stride, says Doran. “The funny thing is they probably just went back to fishing in the next few days. Most of the men never really talked about it.”