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Barbara Busenbark

Uncharted is the captivating story of a woman suddenly widowed after thirty years of marriage and her struggles to make sense of the unexpected loss. She takes on the of the challenge of renovating a run down building that will become her home and art gallery. The project becomes a parallel to rebuilding her life. Realizing living alone, with just a little dog, is not for her she begins online dating. The process yields mixed results, some humorous until she meets Tim. An avid sailor, their relationship brings comfort and warmth to her life. Sailing adventures with Tim become part of their developing relationship. Once engaged to be married, they plan a boating trip from Maine to Florida. Bad weather and unexpected tribulations plague their journey but love and laughter keep them going.

Busenbark’s debut is a heady mix of genres, from tragedy to travel, that kicks off with the death of her husband, Rick, after 32 years of marriage. Suddenly, Busenbark is transformed into a widow, left to fend for herself, though she’s surrounded by family: “I feared I couldn’t control the sorrow consuming me. I needed to keep my hell private” she writes. In time, Busenbark meets Tim, who introduces her to sailing, sweeping her into a coastal escape where she finds inspiration for her paintings in the New England seascapes. What follows is a widow’s attempt to rediscover herself through self-sufficiency, art, and love.

The journey is incremental and unhurried, as Busenbark lingers on descriptions of her surroundings and extracts philosophical lessons from her experiences. It’s also punctuated by tragedy—not long after her husband’s death, Busenbark’s son, Richard, died of an overdose—but not in a way that is depressing; rather, it’s a slow, aching pain that gradually transcends into a deep appreciation for the small treasures in life. Busenbark’s artistic side manifests in the stunning visual imagery of her writing, as when she describes the changes she undergoes as “layers of emotion stacked up like a pile of old books, each with a story and hundreds of pages.”

The memoir’s second half is devoted to Busenbark’s sailing excursion with Tim from Maine to Florida, a meandering but vivid flow of historical landmarks, sailing jargon, and shocking weather. Family members often pop in for guest appearances, and Busenbark is candid about the fears that accompany such an immense undertaking. Her memories of Rick beat a steady rhythm throughout, as she wisely declares “there are some things you can’t fix and some thoughts that remain buried within our souls.” This is a poignant narrative about love, loss, and life that exposes the heartrending side of grief alongside the beauty that comes with healing.

Takeaway: A widow rediscovers herself through art, sailing, and new love.

Comparable Titles: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A

Reviewed by Christine Nguyen for Readers' Favorite

Intracoastal Waterway by Barbara A. Busenbark is a memoir about the author’s journey to overcoming loss and slowly rebuilding her life. Barbara’s husband, Rick, unexpectedly passes away after thirty years of marriage. With the comfort of her dog, Tigger, she adjusts to a new life alone. She sells the family home to open an art gallery and pursue her dream of painting. Barbara enters the online dating world and, after a few mishaps, meets her match in Tim. He introduces her to the world of sailing. Together they decide to embark on an adventure to move their new tug motorboat from Maine to Florida in October. They race against the weather as it starts getting tumultuous and unpredictable, testing their relationship against the mishaps and problems that arise on the water.

Author Barbara A. Busenbark shares her personal life story to shed light on how she dealt with grief and mourning to find happiness again. She writes with bravery and honesty about her painful experience to showcase the power of resilience and overcoming tragedy. I liked how her strength and grit shone through in her writing, imbuing hope in every chapter. Busenbark teaches the reader about pursuing dreams at any age and going after what your heart truly desires. I was fascinated by their boating journey and all the historic American towns they visited each night. Uncharted is an inspiring memoir that left me feeling uplifted and hopeful.