Charting the old course

Recalling civility in Kevin Parham’s ‘MV Islander Resurrection.’


So we’re all looking for good news in the soon-to-be post-Trump and -pandemic world, right?

Here’s an Island read worth your expectations. To be precise, on March 1, 2021, Island good guy and author Kevin J. Parham’s novella, “MV Islander Resurrection,” will be available. If you have memories of the late and beloved Islander, you’ll relish this piece of fiction. If you work for the Steamship Authority, perhaps not so much.

Parham has combined true history, the 57-year reign of the Islander, with legends around that warhorse of a boat. He’s mixed in some then-and-now comparisons of culture and performance of the “Commonwealth Ferryboat Com. (CDC).” The eerily familiar reviews by fictional characters ain’t good, my friends. In fact, many of them sound like stuff you and I have said in recent years.

The story begins in 2007, shortly after the Islander was, in fact, decommissioned and replaced by the Island Home, called Island Gold in the book. The story plays out over three years, culminating in a paranormal event: The Islander, with its original crew, returns and begins shuttling cars and people back and forth between Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole. Now both the boat and the crew have been dead for years, but there they are, dispensing cheerful, efficient, and respectful service at affordable ticket and food prices, to passengers who smile “thank you” rather than snarl in response.

The CDC board is livid, of course, and members try repeatedly and unsuccessfully to dry-dock the Islander. The efforts fail because the ferry is, you know, a paranormal situation.
Turns out the Islander has shown up just in time. Island Gold begins to suffer breakdowns and out-of-service periods similar to, well, today. Now Parham’s got a bit of an allegorical morality tale going on here about the true cost of greed and its impact on everybody, in ways large and small.

I’m not much of a paranormal guy. Stephen King et al. don’t ring my bell, but damn it, I came away thinking how much I loved that old bucket, going back to the ’60s. I loved reading about it in “Resurrection,” recalling that I also went onboard near its end with a screwdriver to take a memento home. “Resurrection” made me remember the small grin I saw a couple of years ago on the face of the real guy who tried in 1972 to throw Robert McNamara, our real ex-secretary of defense, over the rail of the Islander.

“Resurrection” is Parham’s fourth book. Pretty good for a part-time writer. His full-time job is helping to manage Community Work Services, a 143-year-old, Boston-based nonprofit that helps people who face barriers obtain employment and achieve self-sufficiency through training, placement, and support services.

The Times talked with Parham last week about his newest book. We asked what Parham’s background for writing the book was, and he said the breakdowns that were happening in recent history led to the realization of how much he missed the experience of the old ferry. “I was mulling it over more than a year ago, as I kept reading about the breakdowns and the missed trips. I realized then how much I missed the experience of riding on the Islander, and I thought, ‘What if the Islander came back, dependable as ever, providing good customer service?’” he said. “You know, riding the Islander for 40 years, beginning when I was 3 weeks old, was a special experience. It set up your expectations for when you got to the Island.”

We also asked him if the experience of riding the ferry then and now has led to him feeling angry about the current state of affairs at the SSA. Parham said he wouldn’t call what he was feeling anger, but more like disappointment.

This is a story of bad behavior by SSA and customers we’ve all witnessed or experienced. Parham leavens it with good-guy experiences as well. At the end of the day, he leaves us with the thought that bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless of the source and regardless of the year.

“MV Islander Resurrection,” fiction by Kevin J. Parham, $15.95, available March 1, 2021, at Island bookstores and online.