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Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  622 ratings  ·  89 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 devising. T ...more
Paperback, 113 pages
Published 1988 by Living Batch Press (first published 1972)
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4.12  · 
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 ·  622 ratings  ·  89 reviews


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Mike Puma
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Vit Babenco
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wonder what the log of Noah’s Ark could be like. Probably it would’ve read like this:
The view, when I had time, exhilarating and grand. There might even seem, as I would lift a sail and peep through the glass at the garden three stories below, the goat grazing at a pile of brush, ducks waddling from one pond to another, nothing else I could possibly desire.

Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine is a book of maritime adventures, well, of sorts.
Actually it is an account of the woman’s life and the
...more
Nate D
Aug 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
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
Proustitute
Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A curiously clever book told first in short logs from aboard the titular S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine, and then increasingly longer "logs" that become more stream-of-consciousness in nature, all from the point of view of Mrs. Unguentine regarding life with her husband on the high seas.

It is to Crawford's credit that his linguistic wordplay and astute psychological portrait of his narrator cause even pages upon pages of catalogues of mundane and often petty chores aboard an ever-adrift barge and in-d
...more
Sean
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, somewhere-else

Much like Mrs. Caliban, this strange and charming tale served up one of my ideal reading experiences: a completely surreal situation rendered entirely believable through its uniquely nonchalant narrative style. The two eccentric characters in the unusual setting that Crawford has conjured up complete projects of epic proportions conceivable only in the extreme circumstances borne of endless time at sea. It is a work of sublime imagination spelled out in mellifluous prose. My only complaint is di
...more
Maureen
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Maureen by: Patty
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matthew
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jimmy
Aug 18, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Spiros
Mar 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Josh Friedlander
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fc2, pomo
A tantalising, absurd, metafictional story of the type that flourished during its era (1970s): a nearly wordless couple live on a giant barge, on which they've planted trees, flowers, vegetables – an entire ecosystem, in fact – all under a giant glass dome, built out of scrap materials trawled from the ocean floor in a diving bell. Strange, inexplicable things occur; the marriage itself, between the narrator and the near-wordless, abusive, Unguentine, never quite comes into focus.

This interview
...more
Adam
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the time it would take for me to compose and for you to read a befitting review, we could both read this little thing again. So we should. Though brief, it feels epic; through the uncanny it reveals the all-too-familiar. It is to the drivel of domestic drama what modernist chamber music is to a one string banjo. Countless pen-pushers continue to sully reams with the claustrophobic confusions of love and marriage--rest assured this is nothing like that. Whereas embittered spouses isolate each ...more
Connor
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A pretty interesting examination of a marriage, through a highly biblical and magical lens. Reminds me a lot of the film Synecdoche New York. I think a lot of the reviews I've read miss the obvious symbolic imagery in favor of reading it as a story of abuse.
Jim
Sep 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Charles Dee Mitchell
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: contemporary-lit
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
Ben
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Edwin Arnaudin
Dec 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jon
Sep 19, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010, favorites, re-read
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.
Christopher
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An insane book that has restored my faith in reading, which was lagging, perhaps because I have been choosing poorly, but also, perhaps, because I needed something like this, something strange and alive. ;)
Jeff T.
May 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
beautiful imagery, perfectly contained, emotionally evocative, it lives in my mind like a poem or an old photograph
Geoffrey
Sep 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Maybe I've just been reading too much avant-garde stuff lately. This wasn't bad, and it certainly wins for strangeness, but I'm not sure it really amounts to much. Dunno. This is a tentative rating.
Aveugle Vogel
"dodges amid swallows"
Naomi Frazer
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Still one of my all times favourite books that I read time and time again. A wonderful world set upon a large barge, atop which a couple interact in the most bizarre manner....
Bbrown
Feb 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-work
An interesting genre-bending novella that fills in much of the world and character relationships in passing as the narrative recounts the voyages of a barge-turned-floating-garden. Is it an apocalyptic science fiction tale, or a reimagining of Noah's ark, or something else entirely? All but impossible to say for sure, but one thing that you can know for certain is that Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine uses this ambiguous story and tangential style of exposition to create a fascinating atmosph ...more
Brent Legault
Jul 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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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
“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.” 2 likes
“So that where I once did not know who or what you were, now I wonder who I or we are, or what. What planet is this anyway, my dear?” 1 likes
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