Ben Schrank

The latest novel from Ben Schrank


One spring, I took a canoe trip down Minnehaha Creek with my husband and a pal. Thinking it was going to be a lazy ride, I brought a book. The creek, high and fast, thought differently. Instead of reading, I was bailing and ducking branches — and having a blast. Reading “Love Is a Canoe” is a bit like that.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

More Reviews

What results when Emily and her self-satisfied husband turn up at Herman’s lakeside cabin is expertly wrought farce — Schrank skewers the publishing industry and modern relationship talk, while somehow still making us care about the fate of this wounded young marriage. His portrayal of present-day Brooklyn, with its artisanal businesses and self-conscious foodways, may someday feel as nostalgic as Herman’s sepia-tinged memories of paddling a canoe with the ever-wise Pop.

Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe


…a crackling sendup of book-marketing schemes and an inquiry into twenty-first-century togetherness. —Vogue


Peter Herman’s marriage manual is a classic, but what does he really know about love? Whip-smart and highly entertaining. —People


The strength of the novel lies in its well-rounded, passionate characters. Emily the controlling introvert makes a strong contrast to the extroverted, passionate Eli. And Peter Herman starts out looking like a well-meaning soul but ends up looking for a way to serve himself. Within the publishing house of Ladder & Rake Books, the dynamic Helena Magursky comes across as a powerful businesswoman and manipulator. Schrank is particularly good at creating the “enemies everywhere” atmosphere of the publishing house, where Helena rules everything by a deadly combination of whimsy and terror. The self-help book Peter Herman wrote is difficult to see as a popular success. In fact, it’s a terrible example of the genre. But if readers can somehow forget that, they will find Schrank’s novel a pleasure to read and his characters easy to appreciate. —The Dallas Morning News


Starred Publisher’s Weekly Review

Three stories of personal and literary authenticity weave through this novel of love and books that gets sharper and smarter as it progresses. Forty years ago, Peter Herman penned Love Is a Canoe, a memoir and meditation on marriage that retains a devoted following. Canoe’s homilies from Peter’s adolescent summer spent in upstate New York with his grandparents as his own parents’ marriage crumbled contain a certain enduring quality: “A good marriage is a canoe—it needs care and isn’t meant to hold too much—no more than two adults and a couple of kids.” …. The honesty doled out as events unspool is bracing and frank, and give these characters added depth and wisdom. —Publisher’s Weekly


The revival of a classic self-help book reveals some raw emotions in this canny novel by Schrank (Consent, 2002, etc.). Published in 1971, Peter Herman’s Marriage Is a Canoe became the kind of ’70s self-help book that everybody seemed to own yet nobody seemed to take seriously, in league with Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance…. Schrank is remarkably deft at imagining a book that is largely New-Age hokum—his “excerpts” overwork the canoe metaphor—while remaining sympathetic to the power this kind of evergreen wisdom has…. Schrank has firm command of the story, never letting the plot turns descend into farce, and the closing pages are a convincing portrait of how relationships shift in ways no self-help book can anticipate. A wise imagining of modern-day love, unromantic but never cynical. —Kirkus Reviews


Our bookshelves all have an empty space waiting for the book we long for but cannot quite imagine because it can’t be described as ‘the next A’ or ‘Author X by way of Author Y.’ Love Is a Canoe fills that nameless void. Funny, tender, wholly original-it’s as if all the good fairies came to its christening. (Story, dialogue, character, heart.) I loved it.

Laura Lippman, author of And When She Was Good and The Most Dangerous Thing


Love Is a Canoe captures the most essential difficulties of marriage and commitment-our fears of love and loss. A brilliant book of do-overs and second chances, Schrank’s novel is mordantly funny and an all too real meditation on modern life.

A. M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven and This Book Will Save Your Life


I don’t think of myself as loving particular kinds of fiction, but this book made me realize I do: fiction, for instance, like this – smart, darkly funny (but not jokey) books that are knowing and wise but a little skeptical of knowingness and the possibility of wisdom. Love Is A Canoe would join Martin Amis’ The Information and Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys on my shelf devoted to terrific satirical novels about writers and publishing, if I had such a shelf.

Kurt Andersen, author of Turn of the Century and True Believers


With brilliant subtlety, Ben Schrank reveals the ways that belief in popular, sentimental bromides about marriage can impede true connection and longlasting love. Love Is a Canoe is a sharply funny, beautifully original novel filled with interesting, tough-minded characters, great dialogue, and a riveting, excellent plot. The ending is perfect.

Kate Christensen, author of The Astral and The Great Man


Forget self-help books. Love Is A Canoe takes a good look at the world of self-help and both mocks and embraces our dearest and corniest desires. Ben Schrank’s terrific new novel is a real self-help book, and you should help yourself to it.

Daniel Handler, author of Adverbs and Why We Broke Up


It’s not surprising that Ben Schrank would produce a witty, insightful novel about the world of publishing. The real revelation here is how wise Schrank is while navigating the far more complicated terrain of love and human relationships. Love is a Canoe is a wonderful and deceptively breezy novel—heartfelt and wise; light as feathers, strong as iron.

Adam Langer, author of The Thieves of Manhattan and Crossing California


The tale of how Peter, Stella, and the winning couple all come together is emotional and inventive. Each character’s story is interspersed with chapters from the original self-help book. Yes, it’s covered in Velveeta, but there are gems of wisdom buried in that cheese.

Verdict: Razorbill publisher Schrank’s third novel (after Consent and Miracle Man) is a charming book about love, marriage, and the complications of being kind to the ones we love.

Library Journal

About the Book

Every once a while, a book comes along that’s full of wisdom about relationships at every age…

Peter Herman is something of a folk hero. Marriage Is a Canoe, his legendary, decades-old book on love and relationships, has won the hearts of hopeful romantics and desperate cynics alike. He and his beloved wife lived a relatively peaceful life in upstate New York. But now it’s 2010, and Peter’s wife has just died. Completely lost, he passes the time with a woman he admires, but doesn’t love—and he begins to look back through the pages of his book and qvuestion homilies such as:

A good marriage is a canoe—it needs care and isn’t meant to hold too much—no more than two adults and a few kids.

It’s advice he’s famously doled out for decades. But what’s it worth?

Then Peter receives a call from Stella Petrovic, an ambitious young editor who wants to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Marriage Is a Canoe with a contest for struggling couples. The prize? An afternoon with Peter and a chance to save their relationship.

The contest ensnares its creator in the largely opaque politics of her publishing house while it introduces the reader to couples in varied states of distress. There’s a shy thirty-something Brooklynite whose charismatic and entrepreneurial husband may just be a bit too charismatic for the good of their marriage; and a middle-aged publisher whose imposing manner has managed to impose loneliness on her for longer than she cares to admit. And then there is Peter, who must discover what he meant when he wrote Marriage is a Canoe, if he is going to help the contest’s winners, and find a way to love again.

In Love Is a Canoe, Ben Schrank delivers a smart, funny, romantic, and hugely satisfying novel about the fragility of marriage and the difficulty of repairing the damage when well-intentioned people forget how to be good to one another.