There’s something very Forrest Gump-ish about James Tyler, the protagonist of John Tabor’s My First Five Years at Sea. Set in the 1930s, Tyler is kidnapped the night before he enters college, and wakes up aboard The Revenge, a bootlegging vessel captained by the mysterious (and aptly named) Anne Bonny. Over the next five years Tyler travels the seven seas and encounters everyone from a five year old Fidel Castro, to ghost ships on the Great Lakes, and the skeleton of Fletcher Christian (of HMS Bounty fame) while marooned on an uninhabited island.
My First Five Years is a long, strange tour of nautical legend and lore, and much like Gump, Tyler just keeps bumping into and against these figures from history and literature—whether it’s a whale hunting sailor named Ishmael, the whims of Hemingway, or the generosity of Marjorie Post, Tyler meets them all, and we get to delight in both their idiosyncrasies, and his. However, where Gump confined his experiences to what we might call today quintessential Americana, Tyler prefers international waters, crisscrossing oceans, spending time on lakes, and island hoping all over the world. Appropriate, since the ocean hardly restricts itself to the U.S. of A.
Lyrical in places, absurd in others, Tyler’s journey spans the seven seas and ends exactly where it began— entering a seedy pub and walking up to the beautiful woman who changed his life. He, and the reader, have been on an odyssey in the five years and hundreds of pages between those two meetings, and he, like this reader, can’t wait to see what happens next.