An Annapolis graduate and Vietnam veteran, Owen Browne was one of the golden boys of his generation. For him, the war years were the best years of his life, a time of excitement and danger but also of intense commitment, clear-cut purposes and loyalties, and a daily challenging of self physically, psychologically, and intellectually. Everything has been downhill since. He resigned his Navy commission to write advertising copy for a yacht brokerage in Connecticut. Though he excels at sales and copy, he has lost his self-respect and the respect of his wife and daughter. He feels estranged, isolated, discontent. Browne sees the round-the-world yacht race as an opportunity to experience the excitement and danger of his wartime years and to regain his self-respect. His inexperience sailing the high seas alone does not diminish his desire to do so.
Anne Browne, a lovely, intelligent woman from a wealthy nautical family, has been faithful but is hurt and disturbed by an unfulfilling sex life and by Owen’s psychological distance from her; she longs to recapture the love of their youth. A successful, serious writer, she feels contempt for his advertising career. Though not convinced Owen can survive the voyage, she does nothing to stop him. Anne is trapped between loyalty to her husband and the fierce, fascinating sexuality of Strickland’s continued and insistent attentions. Strickland’s intensity, his driving sensuality, the sense he communicates of being on the edge, of dealing with harsh realities, both attract and repel Anne, and she ultimately succumbs. Yet she worries about appearances and proprieties; she is strong enough to reject Strickland when she thinks Owen is returning, and she later agrees to his being robbed and mugged to prevent him from finishing his film about her husband. She is a survivor who recoups financially at the end and who toys with redemption through repeating Owen’s maritime struggle. When she reads a romantic quotation she had included in her final, unsent note to Owen, she cannot imagine the person she had been.
Maggie Browne, the teenage daughter of Anne and Owen, is a silent presence throughout, fearful, pouting, embarrassed, refusing to acknowledge her father’s affection, but deeply loving him. She takes after Owen both physically and in her upright sense of character and fortitude. She is embarrassed and disappointed by his pretenses and lies and is heartbroken at his demise.
Ron Strickland is central to the testing of and understanding of Owen and Anne. He is an aging, embittered hipster filmmaker, obsessed by the Vietnam War, instinctively detecting pretense, hypocrisy, and human foibles. He prides himself on being able to see through “uptight” manners and find the core of darkness. Yet he is also an artist who can capture on celluloid the essence of the human condition, twisted and weak but somehow also pathetic and worthy of sympathy. He begins his film with the idea of tearing down the Browne family and showing the emptiness, fakery, and hypocrisy of their inner selves, but he ends up falling in love with Anne, admiring the innocence and vulnerability of Maggie, and vowing to do everything necessary to redeem Owen, to restore his honor by showing the integrity behind his lies and death.
Pamela Koestler, the star of one of Strickland’s films, accompanies him during much of the filming. In fact, Strickland delights in introducing a kinky degenerate into the homes of what he considers “uptight” puritanical types. Pamela feels comfortable with Strickland’s obsessions. Through her, readers see his darkest side.
Owen Browne, a middle-aged former naval officer and veteran of the Vietnam War who now writes advertising copy for a subsidiary of a conglomerate known as the Hylan Cor-poration. When its head, Matty Hylan, senses financial ruin and disappears, Owen hopes to boost the sagging fortunes of all concerned by taking his place in a single-handed cir-cumnavigation race...
(The entire section is 1,787 words.)