Issue 60, Winter 1974
Q: James Dickey feels that Far Tortuga is a turning point in the evolution of the novel, that you are “creating our new vision.” Would you say something about this book’s development?
A: Far Tortuga is based on a sea turtle fishing voyage off Nicaragua: tortuga is the Spanish word for sea turtle, and sometimes refers to a cay where green turtles are found. I started work on the book in 1966, and since then, it’s been put aside many times, but I never tired of it. I was moved by the stark quality of that voyage, everything worn bare by wind and sea—the reefs, the faded schooner, the turtle men themselves—everything so pared down and so simple that metaphors, stream-of-consciousness, even such ordinary conventions of the novel as “he said” or “he thought,” seemed intrusive, even offensive, and a great impediment, besides. So from the start I was feeling my way toward a spare form, with more air around the words, more space: I wanted the descriptions to be very clear and flat, to find such poetry as they might attain in their very directness and simplicity. In fact, I can only recall one simile in the whole book. And eventually, I attempted using white space to achieve resonance, to make the reader receive things intuitively, hear the silence in the wind, for instance, that is a constant presence in the book.