Craig Moodie,
A Sailor's Valentine
(St. Martin's, 1994;
Parnassus, 1999)

Growing up in suburban Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is about as far from the maritime experience as you can get. Still, the New England coast has always held a strong fascination for me. In 1994, I had the opportunity to interview Craig Moodie, a Cape Cod author and fisherman who'd been raised locally. Craig also gave me a copy of his (then) new short story collection, Sailor's Valentine.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, but somewhere along the line my signed copy of the book disappeared. I don't recall lending it or giving it away, but it was nowhere to be found -- and I wanted to read it again. Finally, 12 years later, I tracked down a copy ... and the stories came flooding back. Somehow, I knew these tales as well as a career fisherman knows his nets.

It starts off with "The Dream of the Whistling Pig," a vivid imagining of a man's crisis at sea -- and the reality behind his vision. In "Report from Pollock Rip," the action picks up as one small fishing boat attempts the rescue of a ship in peril in turbulent waters. "Child in the Shoals" is the most touching piece, revealing the thoughts of a man clinging for life to a buoy far at sea, the only survivor of a careless wreck hanging equally tightly to hope.

"Harwich Port" rolls back the tension a bit, less of a plot-driven story than an analysis of character -- in this case, the daily life of a fisherman with indifferent prospects. "A Sailor's Valentine" is as it sounds, a love story between a small-town fisherman and a big-city girl -- and the oceans of difference that divide them.

The stories sail onward through personal crises with friends, lovers and the ocean itself. A son learns a hard lesson from his father in one, a man mends a broken tie with his brother in another. A fisherman shares the thrill of his duel with a heavy striped bass. In "How are You Today," the perspective shifts to a wife left waiting on shore.

The line that holds them together is Moodie's narrative voice. His stories are simple, but artful; the color of his words paints clear and lifelike pictures of his subjects and their lives. Read A Sailor's Valentine and you'll taste the spray of sea and rain, see the glow of the radar screen and feel the rocking of the boat in your stomach.

As its title suggests, A Sailor's Valentine is a little love note to a lifestyle as rich as it is punishing.

by Tom Knapp
15 July 2006

Buy it from