Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat by Todd R. Baker
Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat
Author: Todd R. Baker
In a world of 7+ billion people, the pressure to be perfect can be crushing. In Luke Morrow’s mind, no one understands the struggle better than him. Divorced, with a son he doesn’t see as often as he would like, failing to find a job that fits his vision of himself, Luke pendulums between hope and despair. This rhythmic swinging, however, quickly devolves into violent pandemonium, leaving Luke staring into the abyss of his life and wondering what could have been had he become the success he so desperately expected. In a Christmas Carol-esque turn of events, Luke is allowed to see what success sows and reaps in a reality altered by magic.
Todd R. Baker tackles big issues in Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat, and provides opposite lenses through the alternate reality he creates. The dichotomy of wealth of money versus wealth of love creates two staggeringly different versions of Luke. As a reader, we see both the desperate love of a poor, single father, versus a rich tech mogul’s indifference to children. The former’s reality is coupled with a happily remarried ex-wife and a son who is wise beyond his years, functioning as both best friend and offspring. In contrast, the latter’s ex-wife remains unhappy and alone, with an equally tormented son, abandoned by his billionaire father. The message, it seems, is that by focusing solely on one aspect of your life, the other(s) can never flourish. Both versions of Luke have not achieved the balance that we all expect will happen naturally. One must work hard and be humble to finally feel complete, but Luke’s road to this realization is littered with devastation and madness.
The curious undercurrent in both realities is how women are treated by the main character. Both Lukes are incapable of having meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex. While the former suffers through tepid online dating couplings, the latter flexes his wallet as an allowance to use and abuse the women he chooses to pursue. Women seem to have no choice in whether they want Luke Morrow: the decision is made for them. The similarity is an important one. Is his inability to create a lasting bond with a woman what renders him unable to be happy in either reality? Does Woman represent the second half of a whole, without which Luke is doomed to repeat the toxic cycle in either existence? Baker leaves an ambiguous space for the reader to decide for herself.
As Baker closes the novel in Dickensian fashion, we are left to wonder at how small acts of kindness can reverberate into the very core of our lives, and how those with absolutely nothing, those invisible to the rich and the powerful, perhaps hold the answers to life’s big question of how to achieve happiness.
The novel perfectly encapsulates its title. In both realities the iteration of Luke is clinging to a lifeboat represented by either love or wealth. It’s interesting to note that, in Baker’s novel, the two concepts seem to be mutually exclusive. This begs for a deeper look into how the 1% in our actual reality relates to the greater whole, and how the 99% treat one another. Perhaps we have much to learn from both Luke Morrows and the paths they walk.
Reviewed for the SFWP Quarterly by Beth Osborne.
Beth Osborne is a chocolate enthusiast living in Ithaca, New York. When she isn’t reading books, Beth can be found wandering in the mountains, baking bread, and training for triathlons. Before she was reading, Beth was a New York City policeman. But a holiday party at the Nakatomi corporation convinced her to pursue a quieter life.