Out of print for over seventy years, Gentleman Overboard by Herbert Clyde Lewis is being rescued for today's readers to launch Boiler House Press's new series, Recovered Books.
Halfway between Honolulu and Panama, a man slips and falls from a ship. For crucial hours, as he patiently treads water in hope of rescue, no one on board notices his absence. By the time the ship's captain is notified, it may be too late to save him...
Rediscovered in 2009 by Brad Bigelow as part of tireless research for his popular Neglected Books website, Gentleman Overboard has since achieved the status of a cult classic and even become something of an international phenomenon, having seen translations into Spanish, Hebrew, and Dutch. The newspaper Ha'aretz has called it 'A miniature masterpiece that emerged from oblivion'; the Spanish magazine El Cultural dubbed it 'una perlita': 'a little pearl'.
A masterful piece of narrative tension, and way ahead of its time, Gentleman Overboard sets the question of existence in its most basic terms. The story speaks fiercely to the contemporary moment and for all who share a sense of loneliness through having found themselves isolated by politics, disease, economics -or indeed just sheer accident and bad luck.
The fate of the novel's hero even has ironic parallels with that of the author, Herbert Clyde Lewis, who died forgotten and alone in 1950, a victim of Hollywood's black list, and who has since slipped beneath the waves of fashion and time, but now hopefully is to be recovered from the murky depths for the readership he posthumously deserves.
Herbert Clyde Lewis was born in New York City in 1909. After working as a reporter in Shanghai, China, he returned to the US in 1933 and began writing fiction while working as a reporter for the New York Journal. In 1937, he published his first novel, Gentleman Overboard, a black comedy about a Wall Street banker who falls overboard while travelling on a freighter in the South Pacific and drowns. Time magazine's reviewer wrote of the book, "His hair-raising little tour de force is the more effective for being so quietly, matter-of-factly written." He published two other novels then moved to Hollywood to work for 20th Century Fox. He earned an Academy Award nomination for his original story for the 1947 film, It Happened on 5th Avenue, but was then blacklisted for his political activities. He returned to New York in 1949 and was working as a contributing editor of Time magazine when he died of a heart attack in 1950.
George Szirtes (Introduction) is a poet whose many books of poetry have won prizes including the T. S. Eliot Prize (2004). His translation of Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai was awarded the Best Translated Book Award in the US. He is also the translator of Sandor Marai and Magda Szabo. The Photographer at Sixteen (2019), a memoir about his mother, won the James Tait Black Award in 2020.
Brad Bigelow (Afterword) is the editor of the Neglected Books Page.
Gentleman Overboard by Herbert Clyde Lewis