Hester Rumberg
Regulator BookshopSome books are pure perspective-adjusters, and that’s the case with Ten Degrees of Reckoning. It’s the true account of the seafaring Sleavin family, whose sailboat Melinda Lee was hit by a negligently piloted freighter near the New Zealand coast in 1995. Nine-year-old Ben was instantly killed, and the sailboat sank. Mike Sleavin and his young daughter Annie perished after excruciating, frigid hours clinging to an overturned dinghy while the family waited for help that never came.

Somehow, Judy Sleavin survived, the beneficiary of that ineffable combination of luck or divine intervention, feral animal instinct and, perhaps most of all, the deeply human need to leave a record. The prospect of losing her family history, the most horrifying of all, kept Sleavin alive long enough to reach the shore.

Ten Degrees of Reckoning is Judy Sleavin’s record, but for its transmission she turned to another sailor, her close friend (and the godmother of her lost daughter) Hester Rumberg. Rumberg’s account collects the facts assiduously and makes sure to establish that the sea collision was in no way the Sleavins’ fault. Soon, moral indignation and personal sympathy naturally gather around Rumberg’s depiction of Judy Sleavin’s exhausting struggle with physical and psychological rehabilitation, while the culpable shipping company attempts to escape liability and scare Sleavin into abandoning her case against them.

The sheer horror, despair and outrage of Ten Degrees of Reckoning make it a difficult book to read, but for a few hours it can radically alter your perspective on whatever difficulties you may be enduring. This book aims to change lives, and the one it may have changed the most is that of its own author: Rumberg hints at the obsessive, quest-like quality of researching and writing it, even allowing the reader to wonder whether her divorce may have owed something to her consuming purpose of giving the Sleavins’ history its voice. Perhaps she’ll expound on that question when she visits the Triangle. In addition to tonight’s reading, Rumberg visits McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington Village Sunday, April 19, at 2 p.m. Visit www.regulatorbookshop.com. Adam Sobsey