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The Boatbuilder

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  785 ratings  ·  120 reviews
At 28 years old, Eli "Berg" Koenigsberg has never encountered a challenge he couldn't push through, until a head injury leaves him with lingering headaches and a weakness for opiates. Berg moves to a remote Northern California town, seeking space and time to recover, but soon finds himself breaking into homes in search of pills. Addled by addiction and chronic pain, Berg m ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 22nd 2018 by McSweeney's
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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 ·  785 ratings  ·  120 reviews

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Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-nba, usa, 2018-read
Nominated for the National Book Award 2018
This debut novel finds the roots of the opioid crisis in hot button issues from the 19th century and seeks possible solutions in meditation, mindfulness, and a return to nature - it's not that Daniel Gumbiner is completely wrong with his ideas, but content and form of this book are extremely tame, there is nothing particularly interesting or challenging here for a reader in 2018. In fact, after five minutes of reading this, I thought the author wanted to
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This NBA longlisted title (did not make the shortlist) looks at how a young man struggles to overcome his opioid addiction. He does so primarily by running away from his life and studying boat building. Beyond this, though, the narrative felt rather empty.
Erin Glover
E.B. White’s quotation in the beginning of the book taken from a letter he wrote to his wife sums up the journey for the novel’s protagonist: “I have had an entirely new feeling about life ever since making an ax handle…”

Twenty-eight-year-old Berg shows up in the imaginary town of Talinas, California to housesit for a friend after a stint in rehab for opioid addiction. He feels being in a small, hippy town next to the bay will help him stay sober. Talinas is unique:

Many people in Muire County be
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had me at boats. Or maybe Northern California. But otherwise the main appeal was the adventure of finding oneself. Or not an adventure as such, that makes one think of something terribly exciting with circuses and pirates. This is the quietest sort of adventure, to use the book’s theme Berg, its protagonist, isn’t a ship on a mission, he’s more of a small boat drifting along the coast that finds a safe port. Berg’s life isn’t a storm, but it’s something of a sh*tstorm when we first mee ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult
I love this book. It's clean and spare and well written but not self-consciously minimalistic. It's the story of a guy who finds himself addicted to narcotics after a concussion, and finds the ability to stay sober and live one moment at a time in working with his hands, building boats, and serving an apprenticeship to a brilliant old boatbuilder. We don't hear much (if anything) about his 12 Step recovery, but the principles are all there. I'd like to own this book and give it to people. I thin ...more
Bob Brinkmeyer
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I seem to be reading lots of "tweeners" these days, this one hovering between a 3 and 4 stars. Because some of my scholarly interest is in how craft and handwork have shaped identity in modern and contemporary Southern fiction, I was really looking forward to this book, to see how the issue of commitment to craft played out here, in a novel set on the West coast. While the issue of craft is certainly important, I was disappointed that Gumbiner didn't explore more deeply the values that are embed ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is part Wendell Berry, part Nick Offerman situated within the modern day opioid epidemic.
Sep 22, 2018 rated it did not like it
I've never been especially interested in California plant life or the construction of sea-faring vessels, but the passages describing them in "The Boatbuilder" are fascinating . . . because the rest of the book is so boring. A millennial suffers a series of head injuries which turn him into an opioid addict, so he drifts up to a Northern California coastal town where he learns life lessons from his new employer, an aging retired anthropologist turned eponymous "boatbuilder" who comes off like a ...more
So why is this first novel on the 2018 NBA fiction longlist? It is not great literature. It is not that it is bad but I'm at a loss to say what I gained from reading it.

The young man - Berg - who is the main character is in his late 20's. As the result of a concussion, he became addicted to opioids. He went to rehab. Then he quit his unsatisfying job writing anti-virus code (I think) and takes a housesitting job in a rural area of Northern California. The book begins with Berg stealing drugs fr
Sep 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Three and a half stars. Another National Book Award nominee that I had not heard of before the list came out. Berg, the main character, is an opioid addict who moves to a fictional town called Talinas in Northern California and eventually becomes a boatbuilding apprentice.

I really loved Talinas and its inhabitants and was sad to discover that it is not a real place. The author makes the scenery sound so beautiful. Also, the quirky, free-spirited characters reminded me of those that lived in the
Michael Jantz
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Terrific mood in this novel. Gumbiner's writing is buoyant and natural-feeling. Some of my favorite aspects are the character nuance, which I find most apparent in the dialogue. Not super heavy on the poetics or very experimental, but a fine book anyways. ...more
Ross Wilcox
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
A sparse, quiet novel about a white dude trying to recover from opioid addiction. He also tries to learn how to build boats, which is interesting. Does a great job with setting, the more rural and agricultural Northern areas of California.
Jul 05, 2018 added it
This was a great book. It felt meditative reading it. There isn’t anything extraordinary about it but there is something compelling and enjoyable about it that is hard to describe.
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I appreciated the intent of the book, and the idea of salvation through craft, in this case boatbuilding, is always attractive; who has not found some solace through immersing themselves in a project that takes all you are and have? It was long listed for the National Book Award, and I wonder if it was simply because of the topic, opioid addiction, being well reported on by the media. It is an epidemic, and it is something I know a lot about as a professional, so just like Adam Haslett’s Imagine ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Consider this novel a Northern Exposure (American television series) type of read where the characters are unique and the location of Talinas, California is like an island unto itself. A small town, where everyone seems to know each other. It is an escape people seem to gravitate to in order to start over, heal or simply get lost.
"Berg", the novel's main character, arrives in Talinas as an out of work, out of rehab Millenial who believes getting away from the big city will defuse his addiction
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book feels like a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for this decade. It’s beautifully written with it’s simple yet stylish prose. It tackles the opioid epidemic in a way that resonates with my own personal feelings too.

Our generation was raised by baby boomers who mostly didn’t teach us how to navigate through suffering because they themselves didn’t experience much suffering.

This book teaches the value of physical labor and it’s calming effects on the brain. It also teaches us th
Ben Seitzer
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
I thought this was going to be another cliche “real men are simple and build things with their hands. Technology is the worst” novel (à la man called ove, a hologram for the king). To some extent it was..I feel like you could tell it was the author’s first novel, some parts are clunky. But overall: pleasantly surprised. Not super thought provoking or unpredictable but still a decent amount of depth and entertaining.
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub
A lovely slim novel of feeling adrift, of finding yourself, of grappling with opioid addiction. Rare is the addiction-narrative that allows you to feel like you aren't sinking into darkness along with the addicted character, but this always remains light even as bad things happen. It's a charming book, if one that I can't imagine thinking too hard about for much longer. ...more
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
The many town characters kind of got in the way of the story and it was hard to keep all the names straight. All the boat building jargon and wood descriptions was also distracting. The subject of the story attracted me but I guess the characters were just too odd for me to relate to them. I liked and understood Berg so that's something. ...more
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This is definitely readable, but it's kind of amateurish. I suspect his second novel will be better. The two things he knows a lot about (drug addiction and boatbuilding) are portrayed with a lot of detail and nuance--though for some reason it was harder for me to really understand all the boat-building parts, even though I have never experienced EITHER of these things first hand. :-) ...more
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Low-key story about a young man's up and down journey to overcome opioid addiction. This leads him to an apprenticeship with a master boat builder whose wisdom and friendship guide him along the way. ...more
Ally Muterspaw
I think the concept and plot had a lot of potential, but I found the narrative fell a bit flat for me on some parts. I didn't think the structure was engaging for me enough to invest into the characters. ...more
Good beginning effort. A simple story of an addict’s journey to better mental health, but populated with memorable characters.
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a sweet, good-natured novel in which nothing much happens, but I enjoyed the ride very much. It follows a year or so in the life of a feckless but decent young man grappling with an opioid habit and figuring out what his next steps in life are. The protagonist, Berg, is a bit lost, but he's also a good guy whom you sense will be OK, and when his instincts lead him to boat-building and a tight little community as a way to keep himself afloat (zero pun intended, honestly) you can't help bu ...more
Nicole| Booklover.zzz | Zamudio-Román
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Mat Davies
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Gumbiner’s debut concerns his protagonist Berg and his attempts to deal with an opioid addiction and get back to something akin to a proper life through a convenient epiphany of boat building. Not much happens plot wise and there are too many coincidences and contrivances for this to be truly transformational but there’s an elegance to the prose and the dialogue is often razor sharp. Part of my problem was that Berg was not that likeable and a bit self absorbed. This, of course, might be the poi ...more
Thomas Harayda
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book tries to be many things, mostly in what seems like a pathetic attempt to be attractive to a wide swath of potential readers. In his ambition, Gumbiner fails to make any one of his weighty themes actually relevant or compelling. A longer book might be able to achieve a modicum of success in traversing the gap for relatability between characters, plot, scene, and the reader's actual or expected experience, but thinking this can be done in 235 pages is naive. The fact that this is being l ...more
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Berg has struggled in his life with drug and alcohol issues and looks to find a job. He ends up finding one with a man who builds custom boats for clients some of which are involved in illegal activities. His boss Alejandro loves his craft and brings some stability to Berg's life. He meets many unique people in the local community. This is a great debut novel with well developed characters and a very realistic slice of life plot. ...more
David W.  Berner
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite read so far for 2018. Magnificent book. It's a wonderful story with a literary sensitivity. Touching, poignant, and at times wonderfully funny. It is filled with humanity. Soooo good! ...more
Jennifer White
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with Talinas and these characters, all of them so unassuming. This book recognizes the good in people (with the exception of Billy) and suggests that we're capable of overcoming our greatest demons. It was a compelling read- beautiful on so many levels. ...more
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