Falter Tom is an old sailor, nick-named for his game leg (Duggan himself lost a leg in early adulthood), who lives in a cabin in a small town by the sea. He knows people well enough to say hello to and he tells the local boys tall tales of life at sea, but nobody really knows him.
One day he encounters a “water boy” by the shore, a beautiful pale-green figure with copper colored hair, who appears to be an adolescent but is in fact ageless. Falter Tom learns from him how to live and breathe in the water. The two travel the oceans together for a year, at the end of which Falter Tom must decide whether to return home to his life on land or stay in the ocean forever. He choses eternal life with the water boy, and the two swim away together joyfully.
This book has good moments, such as when Falter Tom must look for an amulet that is “a part of a fish and a piece of gold kept for luck.” He finds an old whale tooth pendant set in gold that he used to wear, but worries that it won’t work because a whale isn’t a fish. It turns out to be a splendid choice, though, since whales spend their life in the sea. But in between the interesting bits there is far too much description. The writing is beautiful, but things just move along too slow.
This is also, from a certain perspective, a rather sad book, because it reads like it was written by a closeted gay man. (Maybe I’m wrong; maybe it’s usual for straight male authors to write about running away forever to an idyllic life with a beautiful young man.)