Traveling is a strange experience. Travelers are between places. They’re in a pause. Their lives will begin again when they get to where they’re going. At least, it feels that way when you’re a traveler. For the people who work in airports, hotels, and on cruise ships, however, this is their day job. Nothing has paused for them. In The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen, we get to see people who’ve put their lives on pause for a little while and people who are working as hard as they can. And then we get to see what happens when they’re thrown together when everything goes wrong and all the boundaries between passenger and employee break down.
Christine arrives at the Queen Isabella at the invitation of her friend, who plans to interview the staff for a book about the “new economy” on the ship’s last voyage from Long Beach, California, to Hawaii. She’s prepared to have a good time and not think about the fact that her husband wants children and she doesn’t. On the same day, Mick shows up reluctantly for a gig as a sous chef. It’s okay money, but he doesn’t want to be away from his lover in Paris, even for two weeks. Also on the same day, Miriam and the other three members of the Sabra String Quartet (made up of Israeli veterans of the Six Day War) board the Isabella at the request of the owner’s wife.
By bouncing between these three characters, we see different slices of life on board a cruise ship. Seeing their perspectives made me think hard about how oblivious we passengers can be to what’s going on behind the scenes. Of course, the employees work hard to make things smooth for us travelers, but it’s startling to see how much labor it takes to maintain the illusion. Then things get really interesting. Half the crew walks off the job to protest their low wages. The engine catches fire and the the ship loses power. Oh, and norovirus breaks out. The illusion of a floating resort completely shatters and the three protagonists have to decide what they’re going to do. Do they compromise? Do they work? Do they hold out hope for rescue?
The only thing I can say about the ending is really a warning. It will devastate you. I finished it a couple of hours ago and I still feel stunned. I’m not sure if I liked the ending or not, but I certainly enjoyed the ride—a lot more than the passengers and staff of the Queen Isabella, that’s for sure. Aside from my mixed feelings about the ending, I enjoyed this book a lot. I liked the way it showed me the pause between here and there that comes with traveling, took me behind the scenes on a cruise ship, and gave me some beautiful scenes in which everyone came together in spite of the circumstances.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 10 July 2018.