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A Journey to St. Thomas: Tales for Our Time    by Josiah O. Hatch III order for
Journey to St. Thomas
by Josiah O. Hatch III
Order:  USA  Can
Fulcrum, 2023 (2023)
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Writing an entire book in narrative verse seems like a difficult task. Writing that book as an updated version of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that takes place in our present time makes that task into an intellectual undertaking that might not be interesting for many people who lack the scholarly history with Chaucer that would seem to be necessary. However, this book is enjoyable even without much knowledge of the original.

The story takes place on a cruise ship bound for the Virgin Islands in early 2020. The group of people we meet (who are called a Survivors Club) have been brought together with offers of free or extremely cheap passage, and they come from many walks of American society. They consist of a farmer, a scientist, a builder, a preacher, and others from various professions, and most have suffered a loss of some kind. Some lost husbands, wives, significant others, and some lost other things such as jobs, money, or their livelihoods. When the ship encounters rough weather after leaving the New York harbor they agree to hold a contest to see who can tell the best story about loss.

There's a List of Characters in the beginning of the book. The explanation that follows is 'For those who are fans of The Canterbury Tales and want to refer to tales that are, to some extent, modern counterpoints, we offer this list.' Although I may have read some of Chaucer's tales many years ago, since I had a vague recollection of who was on the way to Canterbury, such as Squire, Prioress, Wife of Bath, or Pardoner, this list wasn't for me.

The verse starts in a General Prologue after the Foreword and a short explanation of the Origins of the book. The characters are briefly introduced in the Prologue, and the group agrees that the contest winner will be decided when they arrive at their destination. As the stories begin, we realize that the characters are telling their own stories in more detail. The Cruise Director and the Bartender manage to keep things peaceful, by stopping stories at points where Americans have strongly felt opinions that disagree with whoever is telling a tale. These are present day Americans who exhibit the us versus them mentality that is common today.

I enjoyed the rhyming verse and the stories. There's a Plague that the Canterbury pilgrims are heading toward, and another one that our Survivors Club will encounter, although the Black Death would seem to be much more deadly and grim than Covid-19. However, if one considers the difference in society between those long-ago days and the present, as well as the much greater population density now, maybe the differences aren't as great as they might seem. At any rate, the book is fun for anyone who likes good stories.

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