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3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,989 ratings  ·  166 reviews
Winner of the 1989 National Book Award

A classic tale of a man, a boat, and a storm, Spartina is the lyrical and compassionate story of Dick Pierce, a commercial fisherman along the shores of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay. A kind, sensitive, family man, he is also prone to irascible outbursts against the people he must work for, now that he can no longer make his living f
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 28th 1998 by Vintage (first published June 17th 1989)
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3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,989 ratings  ·  166 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
*****National Book Award Winner for 1989*****

”He could forget everything he’d thought here, this night, in the middle of his life. Let it ebb, and it would flow back. He felt like the salt marsh, the salt pond at high water, brimming.”

 photo Fishing20Boat20Wave_zpsiyuq5par.jpg

Dick Pierce wakes up angry, finds new things to get mad about as the day goes by, and goes to bed furious. He is surprised whenever someone has the nerve to actually point out his bad humor to him. He will admit to being a little grumpy, but angry... well... that
Jim Fonseca
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Spartina received the National Book Award when it was published in 1989. It deals a lot with one great American literary theme: class. Our hero is a decidedly cross Rhode Island waterman who would have been called “crotchety” in old Yankee culture. He lives hand to mouth, relying on the day’s catch of lobster, clams, crabs or swordfish and his wife’s garden to support his family – a wife and two boys. Meanwhile he pours his heart and soul into building his own wooden commercial fishing boat. The ...more
Lori Widmer Bean
The reason I bought the book: The Book of the Year award it received.
The reason I stopped reading the book: The lackluster way in which the author treats infidelity.

Forget the award, forget the hype. The story of Dick Pierce (an intentional pun?) and his quest to finish building his perfect boat is the story of a man who grumps his way through existence, has a wife who loves him for - hell, I don't know what reason, and who can't seem to get his shit together. He's always searching for more mone
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the story of a bitter middle aged struggling New England fisherman. In the relative short time we engage with him, his life seems to be spinning as fiercely as the hurricane wants to spin his boat. But, somehow, he manages to keep both upright, battered, but still afloat. Ultimately, this is the story of a man’s coming to terms with the relative insignificance of one particular little life. I was pleasantly surprised that my eyes never glazed over by all the technical details. Rather, Ca ...more
May 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
What a mediocre novel. I can't believe it won the National Book Award. There must be a story to that. Repetitive, full of endless seafaring analogies, plot not interesting (angry working man strives for more! Cheats on wife! Everything works out in the end!). Don't you believe the quote on the front that this is the best thing since old man and the sea and moby dick. That's laughable.
Dec 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Casey almost had a winner here, chock full of hearty chunks of Yankee realism. On one level it's a novel about work: How to build a lobster trap; how to survive a hurricane; what's the best way to smuggle cocaine into Narraganset Harbor? That's where Casey won the misleading comparison to Hemingway and Melville which adorns the novel's jacket. If only Elsie had been eaten by that shark on page whatever! Hey, I have no problem with love stories, but Casey's propeller gets wicked fouled up every t ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
The best parts of this book were the ones about the man and his boat. Unfortunately too much time is spent in soulful conversations with a lover (a classy, well heeled woman who also happens to be a DNR officer!)and with the narrator telling us what his wife thinks. The character of the wife is almost an affront to wifedom - her face and personality are smudges here. We needed more Noah and less Freud.
Feb 28, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one, except what not to read or write
Recommended to Alex by: no one, luckily for them
Shelves: chum-barrel
Over the past 15 years or so, I've managed to sprinkle into my reading diet 57 of the 67 National Book Award winners in Fiction. To date (late 2010), Spartina remains at the very bottom of the ones I've read (I'd have given it a ZERO if allowed). The back cover blurbs comparing it to Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea are decidedly offensive to anyone with an eye and mind for Literature (next to those masterworks, Spartina is just a guy and his dream of a boat FLUFF). To think that Casey's no ...more
Daniel Villines
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
Spartina offers a glimpse into a rural New England town where everybody knows everybody and secrets are the only temporary privacy afforded its residents. The town's economy is fishing, crabbing, and lobster hunting but the community also sits at an epoch. The yuppies are moving in to take advantage of nature, ocean breezes, and affordable serenity just hours away from the chaos of civilization. While the premise is interesting, the story itself often becomes bogged down in its own narrative. I ...more
The first year we lived in Charlottesville, John Casey came to a large party we hosted with our neighbors. The cheap beer abounded, glow-in-the-dark bracelets were distributed liberally, and the music was loud but not louder than the outrageous din of our partygoers, mostly MFA students. Little fireworks were set off in the street; the cops came; I wanted everyone to go home but they didn’t. But. All this to say, whenever someone references John Casey, this is the image that rises to my mind: th ...more
May 09, 2011 rated it liked it
I decided to read this book because it is set in the area that I recently moved to, southern RI. It was a quick read, and a reasonably good story, but I just don't think Casey's style is for me. I found it difficult to work up much sympathy or concern for the story's (anti) hero. Add to that the fact that Casey is found of florid interior monologues full of nautical metaphors, and you basically have the opposite of the unadorned style of writers who I admire like Raymond Carver or Andre Dubus. S ...more
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good read about Dick Pierce, a fisherman in his 40s, married with two teenage sons. He is building a boat, has financial difficulties which lead him to doing things out of his comfort zone. Dick is a proud, prickly, grouchy man. He has the bad habit of saying things that can and do offend people. I enjoyed the fishing business descriptions and learnt about the lobster, crab and swordfish businesses. There a number of events that keep the novel continually interesting. Smuggling, fishing expedi ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Nov 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: awards-winners
Spartina is the sort of book that made me fall in love with reading. Casey's rich prose style interlaced with poetic imagery fits the storyline well, focusing on Dick Pierce, life long resident of Matunuck Rhode Island and much like the hardy resilient sea grass that provides the book's title and the name of his boat which he is trying to get launched before labor day. There is more introspection here than usual, several set pieces that are written in a staccato style that give the story forward ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it

I often bristle when a book’s blurb says, “old fashioned fiction…a full-bodied novel,” because what I fear the blurbist means is “Don’t you just hate all that smart ass modernist and post-modernist crap?” For the record, I love modernists and postmodernists and post-post modernists. Nevertheless this novel won me over. I almost gave up on it about half way through but the characters began to take hold, especially the flawed protagonist and his “other woman” Elsie. Elsie brings the story a much n
Donovan Wisdom
Sep 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book took off really slowly but man did it not go anywhere at all. Terrible people doing terrible, but still boring, things.
I was on a National Book Award kick so I read it. I immediately lost interest in my National Book Award kick.
If you want to do an award winner reading list, go with Pulitzer. I can't remember a NBA winner that I liked, with the exception of "The Shipping News" which, oh yeah, also won the Pulitzer.
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book. It may have been dear to me in part because I'm from New England, where the book is set, and have spent a little time on the Atlantic/on boats there. But that's only part of what recommends it. The writing is quite elegant, the conundrums very human, the plot surprising, the relationships complex. Loved it! Couldn't put it down.
Dec 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished, novels
Read a rave review, and the cover talked about its book award, but honestly, I could not get into it and did not care one way or the other about the main character. He may turn out to be a flawed hero, but for the first 75 pages, all I saw were flaws, and frankly I didn't care enough to find out what new adversity he had to face (evidently, a hurricane).
I know, I know. I'm hopeless! But it's another book Sean gave me that I just didn't like and couldn't bring myself to finish. It won the 1989 National Book Award, so I guess the characters enthralled some people out there. Sadly, I am not one of them.
Pete Camp
Jul 28, 2014 rated it did not like it
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I loved the nautical jargon, but the plot was lame. The females characters were created with no respect for, or understanding of women. So bogus!
Aug 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
More white, middle-aged philandering without real consequence for the protagonist. Casey's writing is better than the sum of the plot.
Mar 06, 2011 rated it did not like it
Didn't finish it. Not so interested in a self-absorbed middle aged boat builder who isn't very nice to his kids and wife and going through a midlife crisis....
Andrea Braun
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book really captures the essence of quality fiction writing from the 1980's and 90's, and I liked that. It was rich in descriptions and prose, mostly lean.

This was also more of a character study than an action-packed novel, but investing time in getting to know the characters brings the plot alive. The main character is a man having a mid-life crisis of sorts - things haven't worked out for him the way he'd have liked. He works hard but still scrabbles for enough money to support his family
Chris Smith
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very simple story about a poor fisherman and his family along with a cast of friends in South County, RI. Having just moved to the area someone recommended it and it was a fun read to get the flavor of the wealthy crowd as well as those living paycheck to paycheck, breaking their backs fishing through everything nature can dish out.
Especially fun to read about haunts described in the book and go there for lunch and picture events in the book.
Karla Eaton
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
It is hard for me to like a book when I really dislike the main character. In fact, there are very few people in this book that you get to know whom I liked. Yes, there are some acts of goodness but mainly just people who act selfishly without thinking. I wanted to like Dick, recognized that the author was writing a strong voice, a man with a chip on his shoulder, but he really was not someone I rooted for.
Mike Zickar
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book has a slow, steady pace that drew me in, though at no point was I at "the I have to find out what happens" pace. . . this is one of those books where the characters all have serious character flaws but the author creates a sympathy toward them.

I have no interest in fishing or boating, but I found the description of both to be interesting. A novel that will stick in my head for a while. . .
Jerry Pogan
Oct 23, 2017 rated it liked it
A good book, not a great one. It follows a luckless fisherman with a bit of a temper who has been building his own boat and is trying to scrape up enough money to finish it. When he finally finishes the boat he takes it out alone in an attempt to avoid a hurricane that is heading toward New England. This is probably the best part of the book describing his battle with the hurricane. Much of the book is taken up with an affair he is having with a younger woman.
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: character-driven
This book took my breath away when I read it. I live in Rhode Island, and the author completely captured the spirit of the people who live along the coast line. I remember staying up late into the evening to read this book, and then telling everyone I knew that they had to read it. It is a well-drawn, character-driven novel.
May 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Ugh...totally painful and no likable characters.
May 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Moby Dick, meets the Bridges of Madison County, meets The Perfect Storm but with smaller tragedies.
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John Casey is the author of six works of fiction, including Spartina, winner of the National Book Award, and, most recently, Compass Rose, as well as nonfiction and translations. Educated at Harvard College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is a professor of English at the University of Virginia.