To Build a Ship by Don Berry (203 pgs) 1963/2004 ed
An wryly funny, enthusiastic portrait of settlers in Tillamook Valley in the 1850s. From word one you’ll be hooked. Berry’s sense of humor enlivens the already interesting story. If you can get your hands on the 2004 edition with an introduction by Jeff Baker, I highly recommend it. His snapshot of Don Berry makes you fall in love with the man before reading a word.
The bones of the story are this: a young man goes to seek his fortune in the remote Tillamook Bay in the 1850s. There he meets an eclectic mix of misfits and begins to settle in. When the only captain willing to take a ship over the treacherous bar dies, the settlers are cut off from the outside world. So they decide to build a ship.
It’s a masterful book that revels in toungue in cheek humor. The characters treat themselves with utter seriousness, while Berry slyly highlights their absurdity, at the same time using that to intensify the darkness of their eventual obsession.
A couple of the best bits:
Regarding the wild reputation of folks in the nearest town: “These fellows in Yam Hill were probably all fine boys, but they were the scum of the earth.”
As he waits for spring when he can make his way to the Bay, the main character says he “…prepared my pack and unprepared it, counted my single frying pan a dozen times. It always came out One.”