By Michael Hurley
Reviewed by Christopher Zoukis
In a 32-foot sloop named the Gypsy Moon, attorney Michael Hurley sails solo from Annapolis to Nassau.
After losing his job and going through a nasty divorce, Hurley finds himself in a gloomy mid-life crisis. He decides to fulfill one of his personal dreams – “to sail a small boat over the open ocean, bound for no destination but the horizon.”
As he prepares for the journey, Hurley looks back at his life, narrating the events that brought him to his present status. Speaking from the heart, he confesses his unfaithfulness to his wife and his subsequent feelings of regret and guilt. This retrospective interlude, along with others throughout the tale, provides two important functions: first, they integrate the reader into the story. The reader knows what’s going on. Second, they clarify Hurley’s humanity. Like most people, he’s made mistakes. He regrets some of his choices. Yet he’s honest enough to share them, believing, hoping that most readers will sympathize.
Once he sets forth, Hurley likens sailing to life, noting that no matter how well one plans ahead, unforeseen circumstances still occur. Equipment fails, storms arise, and things go wrong in a hurry. And sometimes just plain old bad luck gets in the way. While he ruminates on life and sailing, Hurley throws in his thoughts on love, marriage, and even religion. He describes his foray into online dating, and his personal beliefs about God and an afterlife. His philosophy about successful marriages – that they focus on the husband and wife and not the children – flies in the face of the contemporary world’s viewpoint, which, according to Hurley explains many of society’s current neuroses. Hurley’s philosophical ruminations, coming from his heart, strike a chord in the reader’s heart because of a common peculiarity – faith. Hurley has faith in someone bigger than himself, someone vaster than the ocean.
As his voyage proceeds, Hurley grounds his boat, battles ten-foot waves, and struggles against powerful ocean currents. Fear is his constant companion. Yet he conquers his fear, coming out stronger than he was. Not only does he re-discover his zest for life, he finds happiness with a woman named Susan, who lives in North Carolina.
Hurley’s style of writing is just about right, always. His story is poignant without being maudlin, spiritual without being sanctimonious. Imagine a nautical male version of Annie Dillard amalgamated with Kathleen Norris, who, discerning the sacred in the mundane, explains it in such a way that his readers feel blessed too.
Once Upon a Gypsy Moon is a superlative memoir of personal discovery. Highly recommended.