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A Ship Made of Paper: A Novel Paperback – February 17, 2004

3.4 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Spencer's latest novel should cement his reputation as the contemporary American master of the love story. Daniel Emerson is a New York City lawyer who has returned to his hometown of Leyden, N.Y., a picturesque Hudson Valley village, with his girlfriend Kate, a novelist, and her daughter, Ruby. Kate drinks and obsesses about the O.J. Simpson trial instead of writing fiction. Daniel finds himself falling in love with Iris Davenport, an African-American grad student at the local university. Iris is married to Hampton Welles, an investment adviser. The book records Iris and Daniel's affair from both perspectives and poses the question, is their fleeting happiness really worth so much ruin? For ruin there is a-plenty: Daniel thoroughly humiliates Kate, destroys his financial status, becomes a subject of gossip in the village and inadvertently mauls Hampton in an accident with a roman candle, making it almost impossible for Iris to leave him. Spencer is an unerring writer. He describes the two couples at a local concert: "From time to time, Kate must glance at Daniel. His eyes are closed, but she's sure he's awake. Hampton takes Iris's hand, brings it to his lips, while she stares intently ahead. And then, Kate sees Daniel glancing at Iris. Their eyes meet for a moment, but it has the impact of cymbals crashing. It is a shocking, agitating thing to see. It's like being in a store with someone and watching them steal something." Kate's violated sense of order is captured in perfectly chosen metaphors. This book, in which matters of sex and race are treated with unusual frankness, could well be both the critical and commercial surprise of this spring season.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

A violent incident sends Daniel Emory, a successful white New York lawyer, back to his Hudson River hometown, where he is ensconced in edgy domesticity with his girlfriend, Kate Ellis, and her daughter, Ruby. His daily routine of taking Ruby to day care introduces him to Iris Davenport, a black woman whose son is Ruby's best friend. Daniel develops an obsessive attraction to Iris, who embodies for him the possibility of release from an emotional distance he has felt all his life. Iris tentatively returns the affection, yearning for her own respite from a frosty marriage to Hampton Welles, an investment banker, resident only on the weekends. A freak snowstorm affords the opportunity to begin an affair that sets in motion fierce jealousy--tinged with racial animus--in Kate and Hampton. This is an engaging novel of passion, romantic longing, race, class, family responsibilities, and the riveting anxieties of a couple embroiled in a relationship that cannot end well. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060933429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060933425
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,435,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I would have given this less than one star if I could. It took me weeks to read this book. It made me so angry that I would put it down for days. To his credit, I had to continue reading it to the end to see if Mr. Spencer would somehow redeem himself. Sadly,he did not.
As a reader, this book was such a huge disappointment. Billed as a love story, the plot was weak and plodding. The characters and setting were boring and the lovers (all of them) had NO chemistry.
As a black woman this book was offensive and truly irritating. I am so sad that many folks will pick this drival up and confirm their stereotypes of African American people. Every black person in this book is dreary, unimaginative and negative. The author managed to cover every stereotype imaginable...
The successful but angry black man who is an unfeeling, sexual beast with his 'woman' on the weekend while cheating on her with prostitutes during the week. And naturally he is a distant father to his 'aggressive' son, the only black child in the school who is beating up all the white kids. The black 'gang' of juvenile home escapees who terrorize, Miss White Lady. How is it that in a town with no black people you manage to have a whole 'gang' of young black men incarcerated?
The depiction of Iris is the most disturbing of all. A woman who hated being black because it was such a burden and yet loved living in a small town where the waitresses wouldn't even serve her coffee did not ring true. Yet she claimed she loved it there because "there were so few neighborhoods with African-Americans where she could live with her family and garden and ski... News flash, Mr.
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Format: Hardcover
I read several years ago ENDLESS LOVE, a novel I liked immensely and was therefore eager to start this one. The novel is certainly an easy read. You can race right through it. It's all about Daniel Emerson's obsession with Iris Davenport and his pursuit of her come hell or high water as he rides out his passion in a fragile "paper boat," if you want to mix your metaphors. The characters for the most part are well developed although I thought Iris's husband may have been almost a stereotype. Spencer tackles head-on the dicey subject of an affair between a black woman and white man, certainly an area not every writer is willing to explore.
Having finished the novel, I was troubled by the character Daniel, however. Although his lover Kate continuously describes him as a good man, I'm not at all sure he is. I believe the moral question is this: does anyone have a right to insist on getting whatever he thinks he wants, no matter who gets hurt or destroyed along the way, in order that he can have an all consuming affair? There are of course similarities in Daniel and the young man in ENDLESS LOVE who, as I recall, in a fit of passionate love, burns down the home the young girl he's crazy about lives in. We may be able to forgive youth their folly. I'm not sure we can overlook as easily the sins of people entering middle age.
Having said that, if you accept the premise that everyone here gets hurt or destroyed, you'll find this compelling reading.
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By A Customer on May 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
I gave this book a 2 because the writing is excellent. However, the characters are all unlikeable. They act irresponsibly and disrespectfully and none of them seems to learn anything. The whole race thing seems disassociated. Daniel and Iris are not torn apart because of color. They're torn apart because they are in committed relationships with other people and worse, kids are involved. I disagree with some of the other reviewers that the ending is unsatisfying; there is no ending. What about Hampton? Will their son improve or become a serial killer? Is Iris pregnant and why would that be a good thing at that point? Will Kate get on with her life and move back to NYC already? It doesn't have to be tied up in a neat little package, but give me something.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fabulous read, and a gorgeous, sexy, lusty and insightful story. A Ship Made of Paper is an important book, not just for its comments about race in modern day America, but also for its sly depiction of modern day love. I've never read any Scott Spencer before A Ship Made of Paper, but I can assure you that I was just "blown away" by this story. This story doesn't have any pretensions, but it can't help being an absolutely sensational melodrama. I thought the characterizations of all four characters - Iris, Daniel, Hampton, and Kate were spot on. He is such an honest writer in the way he exemplifies all their insecurities on sex, race, family, and infidelity.
Spencer shows that is affairs of the heart there are no easy answers, which is why I think the book ended as it did. Iris and Daniel just couldn't stop loving each other. But of course, the real irony of the story was the totally innocent relationship between the two children, Ruby and Nelson - one black, one white. This is a haunting and intelligent love story, that is sly, cynical and yet at the same time an incredibly astute character study of middle class American life. I also thought the story provided an interesting depiction of small town American life, and it was somewhat debunking the myth that "safety" lies in small towns. Of course, the title "A Ship Made of Paper" is totally symbolic of the fragility of human relationships, and how they can so easily be destroyed by the pursuit reckless romantic love.
Wickedly insightful and passionate - this is a must read.
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