Flat Water Tuesday – Book Review
While Flat Water Tuesday is Ron Irwin’s first novel, his narrative feels credible and real as he experienced first-hand a number of the themes reflected in his book.
Irwin attended college preparatory school in Connecticut, United States and was a rower there. He now lectures in the Centre for Film and Media at the University of Cape Town, in South Africa. It is no wonder, then, that rowing, prep school and documentary filmmaking are all intertwined in the life of the novel’s main character, Rob Carrey.
Carrey, a medal-winning single sculler at high school level, receives a scholarship to attend prep school thanks to his rowing prowess. The invitation he receives to study at The Fenton School has one purpose: that of helping the institution win again, at long last, against rival school Warwick. To achieve this goal, Carrey would be obliged to leave his single and integrate a four-man crew coxed by a female student.
The teamwork and adaptability necessary to row within a crew as opposed to rowing alone in a single is a core theme in the novel.
“I had decided… that no matter what I did in college, and in life, I would do nothing that required me to work on a team, or in any kind of team environment. I would never work directly under any authority figure, either, or select a job where I had to compete head to head with others.”
The elitism of rowing and its adherents underlies the story’s atmosphere as a whole.
“There was simply no equivalent sport to crew in a regular high school. Not even the football players are part of the kind of aristocracy that the members of the top crews at the top rowing schools in America enjoy.”
The ruthlessness of training and the competitiveness of the sport are largely emphasised throughout.
“Rowing is a pastime for people who enjoy winning at all costs. You are among this cohort, or you would not be here.”
In his writing, Irwin also brings out the beauty of the sport through detailed descriptions of rowing’s link to nature.
“I leaned back and the shell ran out beneath me, gliding over the water like a bird. A million trees up, the mountain threw rippled reflections across the water… Even this late in the season I could feel the heat rising up off the banks, as if the valley had kept part of summer’s warmth for the fall.”
About his novel, Irwin, the author, writes: “My novel may provide a dark look at the vicious side of the sport and indeed the dangers of competition, but the school’s [Kent’s] crew program prompted me to go on to row for four additional years after graduating. The gently meandering course of the Housatonic River changed the course of my life…”
Flat Water Tuesday is more than just an account about rowing. It is that of an adult looking back at his time at prep school, attempting to make sense of all that happened during the year he rowed so intensely and especially to try and come to terms with its dramatic ending. It is that of an adult at a crossroads in his romantic relationship, trying to find his way.
The novel makes for an enticing read about rowing, about trauma and about relationships.