June 2024
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Review: A Pearl in the Storm, Tori Murden McClure

From the back cover:

When mapmakers of the distant past came to the end of the known world, they would inscribe “Here There Be Sea Monsters.”  When Tori Murden McClure attempted to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean in a 23 foot plywood boat with no motor or sail, she had no idea what kind of monsters she would find.  Despite deep solitude and perilous conditions, McClure was a loner determined to prove what one person with a mission can do.  But when she is brought to her knees by the worst hurricane season in the history of the North Atlantic, she must signal for help and go home in what she thinks is disgrace.

Back in Kentucky, her life begins to change in unexpected ways.  She falls in love and learns to embrace her own vulnerability.  So with her friends and her lover, she devises a strategy that will carry her to the opposite shore.  With a wry sense of humor and a strong voice, McClure gives readers a true memoir of an explorer who maps her world with rare emotional honesty.

As with most memoirs, this one doesn’t just cover Tori’s journey across the Atlantic but flashes back through her life and her motivations for embarking on such a difficult and dangerous trip.  She writes about her brother, mentally disabled and abused, the fights that she got into as a child, her entry into a more prestigious academic world and her successful attempt to embrace her own talents.  Tori is a remarkable woman and in the pages of this memoir, she explains in clear, compelling language both her life and her journeys across the Atlantic Ocean.

I was fascinated by all the boat details mentioned in this book.  The book has a diagram of Tori’s boat at the front and throughout she explains just what she’s doing when she rows, where her stuff is, how she feels in her tiny cabin, and so on.  Every gory detail about the blisters on her hands, on her feet, her various aches and pains, and so on are included to really make us feel the pain she’s in.  This is especially so during the hurricane; we don’t find out what’s causing all the problems at the time, but it seemed fairly obvious to me.  The boat capsizes a ridiculous number of times and Tori is thrown about her little cabin.  At one point, she thinks about ending it because she is in so much pain, very alone, and her demons have come out to get her.  Luckily, she doesn’t, and the next day calls for rescue.  I was actually relieved for her.

Tori’s emotional development is quite moving as well.  Between stories of her difficult childhood and independent adolescence and early adulthood, it’s hard to believe that she opens herself up to others as much as she does by the end of her memoir.  Her personal growth while she’s out alone on the boat is valuable not only to her but to us as well.  She faces down her demons and wins; I would hope that most of us need not end up in a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to do the same ourselves!

I enjoyed this memoir far more than I was expecting to.  It’s well written, compelling, and packs a punch for a book that’s about a woman rowing alone across the ocean.  Tori has lived an exciting and eventful life and it’s extremely encouraging to read about a woman who achieves her dreams through hard work and determination.  In a world consumed with celebrity memoirs, this is a breath of fresh air and certainly worth your time.

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