Ship Captain’s Daughter

By Ann M. Lewis. (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 92 pages, $14.95.)

Anyone who has stood near Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge and watched a freighter pass likely has wondered about the life of a crewman, much less a captain. We always bend toward the romantic. But there are also stories in the lives of those sailors’ families. One such story is told in admirably unromantic fashion by Ann M. Lewis, whose father, Willis Carl Michler, worked the ships for 47 years, starting at 16 and rising to the rank of captain of 13 ships.

Lewis, who lives in St. Paul, recalls a childhood governed by the ritual of her father’s arrivals in various ports. With him essentially out of the house for months at a time, Lewis’ mother took every opportunity to connect, piling her daughter into the car to drive from their Duluth home to Washburn, Wis., where a slow offloading of coal could take hours, even once to Sandusky, Ohio, where the ship was waiting out a steelworkers’ strike.

At 12, Lewis could accompany her dad, an opportunity that sometimes felt like a duty in her teenage years, she writes. You can feel her unfurling her hot rollers when he fetched her to show her something in the pilot house. “Ship Captain’s Daughter” is less a memoir than a recollection — the story of a rare life, told with an eye for telling detail, with a level-headed lack of drama (her father’s trait?) and a quiet appreciation of what her mother faced each March when the shipping order arrived and they were back on “sailing time.”

Ann M. Lewis will read from “Ship Captain’s Daughter” at 10 a.m. Feb. 26 at the Hudson, Wis., public library.

Kim Ode,

Features writer

 

THE CLASP

By Sloane Crosley. (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 372 pages, $26.)

Witty essayist and former book publicist Sloane Crosley (“I Was Told There’d Be Cake,” “How Did You Get This Number”) was wise to make her first novel about more than three erudite college pals with complicated feelings reuniting at a wedding. Using Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace” as inspiration and plot device, she adds a layer of globe-trotting intrigue that offsets the nostalgic navel-gazing of hip millennials Kezia, Nathaniel and Victor, on the hunt for a pricey diamond necklace that vanished during World War II.

In Maupassant’s version, a woman tragically works her whole life to replace lost jewels, only to learn that the necklace was made of paste all along. Crosley’s trio learns a bit about what’s real and what’s not during their own booze-tinged misadventures, but nothing so deeply profound as to ring false. That wouldn’t be in keeping with the tone of “The Clasp,” an amusingly satisfying literary aperitif for those who can quote Foucault or Tupac interchangeably.

KRISTIN TILLOTSON,

Features writer