Review: Kayak Morning by Roger Rosenblatt

by Claire Oleson

As I was reading Roger Rosenblatt’s Kayak Morning, I found myself mentally clawing at the reflective prose for a direction. I was hoping to find a structure that lead both this book’s speaker and its subject to some unified conclusion. I was looking for distance, for the book to travel. I think, because of how much of this piece takes place in a kayak, I assumed travel would be included; that the river might break off into ocean and the salt there would have some answer about keeping a dead daughter. 

kayakmorning .jpg

While I did not find the pure “plot development” I (at least partially) expected, in reflection, I think this book is actually better off without it. Structurally, Kayak Morning is split into vignette-like sub-sections, some less than a page long, that serve to draw Rosenblatt’s voice over his rage, grief, and resulting life after the death of his daughter. These sections work together nicely, but many of them also have the ability to stand autonomously as well as contribute to Rosenblatt’s larger story. I think these divisions of the book are what help keep it from traversing in one unified direction over a plot arc and into the cradle of denouement. This conventional structure, though it is perhaps what I was initially looking for when I started this book, would not be good for writing grief. To give Rosenblatt’s grief a body of beginning, climax, and descent would be to suggest that it could and should end, and that on some level, his daughter is something he should be able to get over for the sake of a narrative. Instead of allowing this, these sub-sections in Kayak Morning provide Rosenblatt’s reader with entries of thought and emotion that function separately enough keep him from arriving at one definitive ending, even and especially in the end of the book.

Rosenblatt treats grief with care and rage and water. He travels, but instead of his kayaking being about arrival or ending, it’s about process. As Rosenblatt’s kayak rests over the water, I’d like to suggest that these divided sections of his book float atop the larger subject of his grieving. These stepping-stone thoughts don’t stop there from being water of course, but they do provide both Rosenblatt and his reader a place to stand and examine what exactly his grief is and where it’s flowing. 

The structure that Rosenblatt employs in Kayak Morning acts as an embodiment of his thought, anger, and anguish. Each entry offers a new point of entry into Rosenblatt’s struggle and provides a new prospective on what grief is both conceptually and personally. This choice of formatting makes this work all the more powerful and moving. As Rosenblatt claims that “you can see absence in the face of someone who feels it,” (Rosenblatt 123) I think it’s also possible to see the life and significance of Rosenblatt’s daughter in the way he presents and structures her death. Rosenblatt’s Kayak Morning is movement without destination, an acknowledgement of a death through the life leaves behind, and a poignant examination of how grief doesn’t dissipate with end of a literary work.

We’re revisiting our archives—this post originally appeared on October 9th, 2015.

— Writer Claire Oleson hails from Grand Rapids, Michigan.