Geoffrey Wolff is the acclaimed author of such remarkable books as THE DUKE OF DECEPTION (1979) and BLACK SUN (1976). As THE DUKE OF DECEPTION spoke to Wolff’s memories of his father, the current volume reflects on life’s many absurd moments and how the author had to muster all the humorous resolve at his fingertips to pull through a number of harrowing experiences with his sanity still intact. These essays have been crafted by an author who chooses words with precision. Wolff does not believe in wasted effort, or in employing a heavy hand. In the opening essay, “Apprentice,” Wolff relates his tenure at THE WASHINGTON POST and how he learned to be a keen observer as well as to write clearly and concisely. Each of the essays presents Wolff in a unique set of circumstances. During the 1960’s, he taught at Robert College, which is located eight miles outside of Istanbul, Turkey. During his stay there, Wolff met and became friends with James Baldwin.
The title essay recounts a family vacation in the West Indies. The vacation became a nightmare, and Wolff could not wait for it to end. No sooner had the time come for them to return home, when Wolff collapsed from a heart attack. It became necessary for a medical team to sew in an artificial valve. Wolff speaks of this experience with poignance and calm. Within a year after open-heart surgery, he took on the challenge of climbing the Matterhorn. He gave up the ascent before reaching the top, but he felt good about himself and what he had accomplished. In the final essay, “Waterway,” Wolff relates a harrowing sailing journey on his boat “Blackwing.” It took several months to sail from the Bahamas back to their home in Jamestown, Rhode Island. His wife, Priscilla, flew home and their son, Nicholas, took her place when “Blackwing” had reached Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. In turn, Wolff’s younger son, Justin, relieved Nicholas at Cape May, New Jersey. Wolff and Justin faced the final leg of the journey courageously. No matter how foul the weather became, the author kept his spirits up and came away from the ordeal invigorated by what he and his son had done. A DAY AT THE BEACH is an uplifting read. Wolff strikes a wonderful balance in dealing with life’s pitfalls, never losing sight of the therapeutic value of humor.