Subtitled “a romance,” Sabbatical is the story of Susan Rachel Allan Seckler, a sharp young associate professor of early American literature—part Jewish, part Gypsy, and possibly descended from Edgar Allan Poe—and her husband Fenwick Scott Key Turner, a 50-year-old ex-CIA officer currently between careers, a direct descendant of the author of “The Star Spangled Banner” and himself the author of a troublemaking book about his former employer. Seven years into their marriage, they decide to take a sabbatical, a sailboat journey on which they sum up their years together and try to make important decisions about the years ahead.
True to its subtitle, the novel combines the mysterious and marvelous (unexplained disappearances, a fabled sea monster in Chesapeake Bay) with romantic love and daring adventure.
Sabbatical is quintessential Barth: it involves sailing, twinship, the joy of love and literature, the sorrow of death and disaster, and a playfully complex narrative. The author has written a foreword for this new edition.