In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying Grace Winter and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.
Adrift on the Atlantic, the weather deteriorating and supplies dwindling,In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying Grace Winter and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.
Adrift on the Atlantic, the weather deteriorating and supplies dwindling, the caraways scheme and battle, caught up in a vicious power struggle between ruthless but experienced sailor and an enigmatic matron with surprising powers of persuasion.
Choosing a side will seal her fate, but Grace has made her way in the world by seizing every possible advantage. As she recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met and considers the new life of privilege she thought she'd found, Grace must now decide: Will she pay any price to keep it?
The Lifeboat is a masterful debut, a story of hard choices, ambition, and entertainment narrated by a woman as complex and unforgettable as the events she describes....more
Hardcover, 279 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Reagan Arthur Books (first published 2012)
Writing in The Guardian, Justine Jordan called it “a terrific debut novel,” a “fascinating portrait of a determined, free-thinking young woman, and an inquiry into the puzzle of personality.”
For Ms. Rogan, tall and chipper with sandy blond hair, her surprising success comes after more than 25 years of writing novels in secret, usually while her husband was at work, and her triplets were at school.
Fiction was not a driving interest of hers when she was an undergraduate at Princeton in the early 1970s, where she was more captivated by architecture and engineering than by anything else.
That changed around 1987, when Ms. Rogan signed up for a creative writing course at City College. For a novice, it was a crash course in discipline, in the grind of producing new work every week, and in facing rejection.
“One thing I picked up was just doing the writing, every week, having someone tell you that it’s going to be bad,” she said. “You learn not to be afraid of putting things on the page.”
In the coming years, writing became a secret habit, something Ms. Rogan didn’t openly share with friends. After she moved to Dallas, she usually turned down invitations to lunch so she could use her free time to write.
“I wanted those hours,” she said of the late mornings and early afternoons, when the house was quiet and she had time to herself. “I’d really, really try to be consistent about it.”
Ms. Rogan painstakingly produced three novels, all of which she later dismissed as not particularly interesting, or not focused enough on plot, lessons that she absorbed for the fourth novel, the book that eventually became “The Lifeboat.” (A fifth novel, “Security,” the story of a group of people trying to protect themselves behind the walls of a gated community, was written during the George W. Bush administration, when she was in Texas and feeling slightly outnumbered politically.)
Inspiration for “The Lifeboat” struck around 1999, Ms. Rogan said, when she was curiously digging around in her husband’s criminal law texts on a shelf in their home library.
One famous case that dated to the 19th century, Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, was especially intriguing. Dudley and Stephens were two starving castaways who, stranded on a lifeboat for weeks with little food, decided to kill and devour one of the other passengers. They were rescued four days later and eventually convicted of murder, establishing the principle that killing another person to save one’s own life was not a valid defense.
“The Lifeboat” steers clear of cannibalism, but it explores the same deeply chilling questions of survival, strength, life and death when trapped with a group of strangers after a shipwreck.
For her research Ms. Rogan read several nonfiction accounts of seafaring. And writing about sailing came naturally, thanks to her memories from a childhood partly spent in Chicago, where she frequently joined her parents and siblings for weekend sails on Lake Michigan. Her job, she recalled, “was to stay out of the way and not fall overboard.” (Not all of her characters in “The Lifeboat” would follow that advice.)
Annie Philbrick, the owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., was one of the early fans of the book, recommending its inclusion this month on the Indie Next list, an influential shortlist of recommendations that is distributed to independent bookstores across the country.
“She turned it into a psychological thriller, a tale of survivorship,” Ms. Philbrick said, “in such a way that made it seem like it wasn’t a story that had been told before.”
Reagan Arthur, the editorial director of her imprint at Little, Brown, heard about the book from Andrea Walker, the editor who enthusiastically acquired it. Ms. Rogan was, of course, a complete unknown.
“That’s one of my favorite parts about it,” Ms. Arthur said. “Coming to it at her age, she has the experience of someone who has lived a life and done a lot of other things.”
Marlena Bittner, a spokeswoman for Reagan Arthur Books, said 35,000 copies had been printed, a strong sign of support from the publisher when so much fiction is read electronically. It will be translated into 20 languages, Ms. Rogan said.
Looking back, Ms. Rogan said she was grateful that some of her earlier, discarded novels were never published. And not telling many people about her writing habit, while leading a full life in the meantime, took the pressure off.
“You’re busy and you don’t sit there and stew about it,” Ms. Rogan said. “There were times when just the writing of it was enough.”Continue reading the main story