"When was the last time you got lost in a thing?" When 28-year-old Eli "Berg" Koenigsberg is asked this question, he's fresh out of rehab, living in the Northern California coastal town of Talinas, trying to stay clean until his musician girlfriend returns from the road. Derailed by a brain injury and resultant opioid addiction, Berg has, by his own account, made nothing of himself, despite supportive parents, significant intellect and prior career success. In The Boatbuilder, Daniel Gumbiner excerpts a life interrupted and the craft and community that help Berg figure out who he might be.
Berg has grand intentions of living a life of fulfilling work, exercise and fresh air. He makes progress, discovering the art of boatbuilding as an apprentice for Alejandro, a local artisan whose farmhouse Berg unknowingly raided of prescription drugs shortly before they crossed paths. As Berg immerses himself in the details of craftsmanship, Alejandro mentors him on a grander scale--"You do this one little thing right, in this moment, you fix this one little thing, then you think, Maybe I can fix my life."
Gumbiner surrounds Berg with a boatload of colorful characters (including a local who sings country songs about deer) and a community vibrant with oddities (full-size papier-mâché bodies hang from wires in the underground sewer) and local lore. Engagingly written and full of the complexities of being human in a muddled world, The Boatbuilder is a soulful, funny and sometimes absurd slice-of-life debut that shines. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review