History Swamps Storytelling in Stars on the Sea

Stars on the Sea is F. van Wyck Mason’s novelized account of how American got its Navy.

Tim Bennett, son of a prosperous Newport merchant, takes lunar leave from the army defending Boston at the urging of his fiancé, Lucy. He’s just getting home when Redcoats burn Newport, beggaring the family. In the skirmish, Tim’s sister’s   Redcoat lover is killed and her affair made public. Desire flees Newport to live as best a beautiful teenage girl can on her own.

Lucy’s family hustle her off so she won’t marry Tim. He takes off to the Bahamas in hopes of getting letters of marque and using one of his father’s ships there to restore the family fortune—and harrass the British.

Van Wyck Mason falls into the trap that catches so many historical novelists: he puts in too much history. In fact-dense fashion, he tries to show maritime events from Maine to Trinidad. The result is a tenuous patchwork of events, people, places.

That patchwork quality is the novel’s salvation. The characters are too sketchy, the plot too dependent on coincidence for the story to withstand concentrated attention on any one character.

Stars on the Sea
By F. van Wyck Mason
J. B. Lippincott, 1940
720 pages
My grade: C

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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