Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Boon Island, Kenneth Roberts, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1956, 275 pp

The #10 bestseller of 1956 is what I call "dick lit." Extreme adventure with not one female character until the last few pages. Essentially it is a ship wreck story and is meant to show the benefits of strong leadership in times of peril and stress.
Kenneth Roberts had two top bestsellers in the 1940s: Oliver Wiswell (1940) and Lydia Bailey (1947). He is an excellent story teller, is clearly on the right politically, and can create fascinating female characters when they fit in the story. Boon Island however, is Lord of the Flies with a happy ending, where the good guys win.

A group of men set out from England in 1710 with a cargo of rope and Irish cheese, bound for Maine. They are harboring a young man who accidentally commited murder back in London. Also on board are a psychopathic first mate and two of his cronies. The first mate is the type of character who brings evil into the midst of men of good will. Captain Dean is your level-headed, patient yet firm sort who would lead a boyscout troop these days.

Within one day's sail of their destination, in the middle of winter, they are driven by a storm onto desolate, rocky Boon Island. Will they survive in freezing temperatures on nothing but mussels and seaweed? Will the evil Langman succeed in taking over from the admirable Captain Dean?

It is an exciting story with plenty of psychological content and many mentions of how hardworking people save the day though they carry the slackers on their backs. Clearly men still read novels in the mid 1950s.

(Boon Island  is out of print, except for a revised version which is also hard to find. I recommend your local library or a used book seller.)

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