In Anne Hutcheson’s novella Peaceful Waters, Fen McCallin embarks on a physical and emotional journey after losing her significant other to suicide.
Fen is a successful physical therapist in San Francisco and Donovan was a respected pediatric cardiac surgeon. The couple’s home is a sailboat docked in Sausalito, California. Their plan was to someday sail the Pacific coast to Mexico.
Despite having a strong support system, Fen is determined to face her grief alone. Yet, she feels Donovan’s presence so strongly, she routinely converses with him. In these one-sided talks, she seeks to understand why Donovan committed suicide. Sad and angry, she wonders how she missed signs that her friend and lover was depressed enough to take his own life.
Hutcheson describes the book as “a love letter dedicated to those who have lost someone dear to suicide…” The narrative’s brevity, however, does this theme a disservice; it suggests the grieving process is short-lived.
Within mere weeks, Fen clears the boat of Donovan’s belongings, trying to move forward. Soon thereafter, she sets sail alone on the route the pair had often talked about. Her journey is surprisingly well-planned, given how quickly she heads out to sea, complete with reservations for inns, land tours, and restaurants.
As the story unfolds, Fen engages with those she meets in ports and appreciates the beauty of the ocean vistas. Her atmospheric descriptions are the story’s main strength: “Drifting in on the air currents, three pelicans fell into the sunset. The assorted fleet of boats servicing the sunset-watching crowd dotted the Pacific. Others gathered on the beach…It felt warm and friendly, connected.”
As a look at the grieving process, the novella feels superficial and oddly upbeat, despite Fen’s tears and heartfelt words to Donovan. The travel aspects of Fen’s healing journey are more successful and might prove satisfying to some readers.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.