Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine
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Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine

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4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  367 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Forty years ago I first linked up with Unguentine and we made love on twin-hulled catamarans, sails a-billow, bless the seas . . .

So begins the courtship of a certain Unguentine to the woman we know only as “Mrs. Unguentine,” the chronicler of their sad, fantastical tale. For forty years, they sail the seas together, alone on a giant land-covered barge of their own devisin...more
Paperback, 107 pages
Published September 10th 2008 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1972)
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Mike Puma
Mar 05, 2013 Mike Puma rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: they'll know who they are
Shelves: dalkey-archive, 2013

Briefly: Just when you might think you’ve had it with PoMo silliness, along comes something that’s anything but. I started this one thinking, Oh no. Proceeded with a sense of dread. Nothing beautiful. Nothing exciting. To eventually arrive at a place of And yet.

What may or may not be pages of the narrator’s log, recounts years (and years, and years) at sea (or not), with her husband (and his memory, and his ghost, and his love, or not) on a barge that is transformed into a burgeoning floating is

...more
Nate D
Dec 01, 2010 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: gardeners adrift and isolated
Recommended to Nate D by: drifting gardens in isolation
Science fiction without science, magical realism without magic, surrealism shorn of its major concerns and retuned to human emotion. Somewhere triangulating but outside all of these concerns, lies a certain sort of writing that I tend to find terribly involving. This example of this strange territory is a compressed chronicle of 40+ years of marriage on a kind of floating garden, its two occupants falling into their (lack of) relationship just as the outside world recedes beyond the horizon (or...more
Eddie Watkins
An utterly beguiling book with the feel of a loosely executed allegory, which allows the meaning(s) to roam and float from domestic portrait to the fall of man to a holistic gaia epic, but though there is a suggested formula within the structure I suspect Crawford stuck to his aesthetic guns and worked without a formulaic net, hence the utterly beguiling nature of it, offering open-ended rewards and the draw to read and reread it. Some have said that this is a probing portrait of a marriage but...more
Jimmy
An amazing invention of a short novel, most impressive for the details that are required for the imagined world of a barge-cum-island to take root in the reader's mind. Fantastic in its Daumaul-ian logic, its Roussel-ish sense of spectacle. I would not go as far as Ben Marcus does in his afterword, in which he praises it for its examination of a marriage--this aspect of the book I found not fully satisfying, existing only in the most allegorically surface sense. We never get a feel for who these...more
Maureen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matthew
A myth? An allegory? A fariy-less fairy tale? An improbably intricate and most fabulous dream? All of the above? Who knows. Who cares! Such a sumptuous little treat of a book! If you like words, if you love language, if you enjoy mini-novels that have been painstakingly detailed and read like urgent transmissions from some other, far more fantastical (yet somehow completely and compellingly convincing) realm, then dive right in. A woman, Mrs. Unguentine, tells the story of her time on a barge--o...more
Ben
Part sic-fi parable, part biblical diatribe on sustainable living, part early post-modern experimental novel in the tradition of the John Hawkes' Second Skin or Barbara Comyns' Who Changed and Who was Dead... this was an electrifying read for me in so-not-the-ways things are normally thought of as electrifying. (At least in my mind.) For example Naked Lunch or Tropic of Cancer seem electrifying solely in that they were (triple underline) published. This book is beyond being worthy of being publi...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
A drunken Mr. Unguentine falls from the railing of the barge, thus ending a forty year marriage that began with a night of love on a catamaran and was consecrated via Transatlantic cable. He and Mrs. Unguentine, who narrates the story, have lived on their married life on the barge, sailing the seas to avoid extreme seasons, and after the first few years never touching land. Mr. Unguentine takes charge of navigation while Mrs. Unguentine tends to their world where the composting garbage provides...more
Brent Legault
I'm supposed to like this one. Ben Marcus wants me (and you, and anyone with literary taste, with imagination) to like this one. But I don't like this one. And here's why:

If you were to strip away its wildness and all it's overgrown but oddly vague details (But then, why would you do that, right? Because that's the story, right? I'd agree with myself if I were talking about style. Because style, in fiction, really is all there is. Or nearly so. But I'm not talking about style, not mostly. Mostly...more
Spiros
Mar 18, 2010 Spiros rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who, unlike Mrs. Unguentine, don't mind being at sea
Stanley Crawford has managed the seemingly impossible in this novella; he has mastered a prose style that is dense yet evanescent. In the past week I have read this book five times, and at each reading I have come across images which I would swear I hadn't come across in previous readings. How dense? Consider this passage:
"We fueled by night in obscure, foetid ports where I strip-teased on the prow, ringed by candles, to mollify thin-lipped customs officials, while Unguentine whispered assignat...more
M.
So, I know this is, who was it, William Gass Gordon Lish's (?) favorite book aside Ohle's Motorman? Anyway, I think I read that somewhere, I might be wrong. I feel similar about this book as I did to Ohle's, though I liked this more based on narrative events... what I mean is that like in Motorman, as much as I could recognize, if I stopped to really consider it, that the language here is awesome, I was far too distracted by the enjoyable & fantastic plot to really give the language my atten...more
Edwin Arnaudin
An intriguing, experimental, literary novella. A married couple set sail on a barge, which the husband turns into his own floating world. He plants a small forest of trees, populates it with a variety of animals, and builds structures such as a giant dome out of materials fishes from the ocean's depths, all with no intention of returning to land. Moving throughout the tropics, the wife grows increasingly restless and yearns for a life on solid ground.

And why wouldn't she? Her only companion is a...more
Jim
ORIGINALLY published in 1972, Stanley Crawford's allegorical novel "Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine" has been in and out of print for years. Newly reissued after much time adrift, the book is long overdue for a heroic homecoming.


The novel is written in the form of a ship's log, albeit one bereft of dates, times or coordinates. Rather than hard facts, we are presented with the 40-year history of the Unguentine marriage as the couple roams the seven seas aboard a garbage barge. At the start, M...more
Jon
In the afterword, Ben Marcus says, "Architectural dreamwork, end-times seascapes so barren they seem cut from the pages of the Bible, cooly-rendered Rube Goldberg apparati, and the crushing sadness that results when you tie your emotional fortunes to a person whose tongue is so fat in his mouth he can barely speak, mark this little masterpiece of novel." So, he liked it. I liked it as well. He goes on to say that one of the major forms of the novel is "an argument against the company of others"...more
Lee Thompson
When I read now, I don't necessarily read to pass the time, or even to be entertained (a wonderful side effect). I read *hoping* to add something new to my experience as a reader. Crawford's novel certainly added to that experience, is as unique a work of the imagination as Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, or Bartheleme's The Dead Father (I could list perhaps a dozen favourite little books). Published in 1972, I was worried it would be dated, but there are no cultural references, no stylisti...more
Lysia
It gave me the same feeling I had when I read "Life of Pi" - I think not only because I read this while on the beach in the Dominican, but because I am fascinated by what life on or near the water does to people and their relationships. Nothing seemed odd about the lives and interactions of these characters, although the fact is that if this took place in an apartment in the city it would have a radically different effect on me. I did feel sorry for the loss that Mrs. Unguentine felt for the lif...more
Amy
I hesitate to call this a love story, but basically that's what it is...a couple on a boat in the middle of the ocean The boat is practically its own island/biosphere complete with plants, a garden, and livestock. At times the couple takes on an Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden quality. Other times we are exposed to the difficulties in the relationship, mainly stemming from the man's alcoholism and unwillingness to speak and the woman's deceit and dissatisfaction. I was entranced by the setting and...more
Terresa
If Charles Burchfield was a writer, he may have written something like this book, fecund, imaginative, blissed out. The enigmatic Unguentine appears only to disappear. By the end I wanted to give him a thrashing with one of his fake fronds, followed by a hasty retreat of myself and Mrs U. to dry land.

For very good reasons, none of that happens, but there exists the lure of the ocean and land, solitude and union, and I am caught in between, enraptured.
Aidan Watson-Morris
not sure what to say about this one exactly. powerful storytelling on its own terms. although it won't lack impact the first time around, after you read it through all the way, let it marinade a little, is my advice.
alex
virtuosic writing. compelling read for its uniqueness. vague and broad enough to allow readers to deem allegorical if they wish, noah's ark vs alienation of marriage etc etc
Jeff T.
An unreliable narrator unfathomably alone on a fantastic ship. A (usually) floating world made of words, (usually) wordless. A barge that is land that is language.
Sandra
beautiful imagery, perfectly contained, emotionally evocative, it lives in my mind like a poem or an old photograph
Jacob
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kerri Anne Stebbins
The first two chapters are light, whimsical, read like a ship is narrating, which is seemingly Crawford's way of setting his readers up to be careened into rocky shores, because this book isn't light, is only whimsical in the way fiction can remain wholly unrealistic while trying to tell some semblance of a real story. Fiction is fiction is fiction is sometimes altogether insane, a cornucopia of visual acid trips, and Mr. and Mrs. Unguentine's floating barge/farm/forest/greenhouse/prison remains...more
Ryan
From the jacket:

"Forty years ago I first linked up with Unguentine and we made love on twin-hulled catamarans, sails a-billow, bless the seas... So begins the courtship of a certain Unguentine to the woman we know only as Mrs. Unguentine, the chronicler of their sad, fantastical tale. For forty years, they sail the seas together, alone on a giant land-covered barge of their own devising. They tend their gardens, raise a child, invent an artificial forest--all the while steering clear of civiliza...more
Mark
this is either a novel about a fantasy of life on a boat on the ever-distant seas, or a parable about marital strife and the compromises of long term relationships.

well probably it's both. the unnamed narrator (literally unnamed, claiming her name lost upon becoming mrs. unguentine) tells of her husband, possibly a violent alcoholic (though after the first chapter that aspect is left out of the story), definitely a strange and obsessive man who rarely speaks and follows a strange will. the two o...more
Andrew
Slim book about a couple's 40+ years alone together at sea. Simple premise but a lot to unpack. Many reviews describe it as being about marriage, which I guess is true in a sense. But I think that description is a bit too confining - the story is about the give and take of relationships, the pull of competing dreams and desires, the interactions and communications between people who know each other as well as they know themselves. That sort of relationship is probably found most often in marriag...more
Ben Loory
Dec 25, 2008 Ben Loory rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: damn near anybody
Recommended to Ben by: Patty
put man and woman alone on barge adrift in ocean. where garbage was, put garden full of trees, goats, and birds. let thing drift for decades, until it solidifies into allegory. enjoy greatly.

"Plagues of insects we have known, chattering hordes came out of the middle of the night to munch their way across half the garden by dawn and multiply faster than we could shoo them away; and heavy night-flying seabirds which have crashed by the flock into the trees as I have wandered about the barge by can...more
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Crawford is the author of "Gascoyne," "Petroleum Man," "Log of the S.S. The Mrs Unguentine," "A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm," "Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico," "The River in Winter," and "Some Instructions to My Wife Concerning the Upkeep of the House and Marriage and to my Son and Daughter Concerning the Conduct of their Childhood." He lives in...more
More about Stanley Crawford...
A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico Some Instructions to My Wife Concerning the Upkeep of the House and Marriage, and to My Son and Daughter Concerning the Conduct of Their Childhood Gascoyne Petroleum Man

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“Finally when he climbed below deck after dark, wondering where his dinner was, perhaps with a storm come up and rough seas and blinding rains, I'd sulk and lure him into the warm and steamy darkness and from the hairs of his warm body I'd breed a myriad smiling, sparkle-eyed one-year-olds, my broods, my flocks. In the churning seas, below the waves, together inside our hammock woven in coarse sailcloth by Unguentine's deft hands, a spherical webbed sack which hung and swivelled between the two walls of our bedroom, we would spin round and round with lapping tongues and the soft suction of lips, whirling, our amorous centrifuge, all night long, zipped inside against the elements. Now, years and years later, those nights, the thought and touch of them is enough to make me throw myself down on the ground and roll in the dust like a hen nibbled by mites, generating clouds, stars and all the rest.” 1 likes
“Often he vanished for days down the spiral staircase into the engine-room to overhaul the weary machinery, leaving me with a curt note tacked to his then-favourite aspen, the Aspen Laura-Anne, a white-limbed thing with noisy leaves: 'A due-south drift, please, love, for a day or two, n'est-ce pas?” 1 likes
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