And did it ever truly matter either way? My argument for the strange and unusual beach read.
I have always found that selecting the “Next Book to Read” is one of the hardest aspects of being a decidedly overactive reader. There is some kind of alchemy I have not yet isolated that occurs when I purposely cast myself loose from a specific TBR stack, and float around effervescently interested in every book I have ever owned, et al. Very often, this is how I find the exactly right book for me at the exactly right time. It is usually a book I’ve owned (and subsequently ignored) for years, but which is suddenly pulling my hand into its gravitational sphere of influence. It is screaming “READ ME RIGHT NOW OR SO HELP ME GOD I’LL FIND A LITTLE FREE LIBRARY TO RUN AWAY TO, JUST TO GET AWAY FROM YOU”
Books. They can be so dramatic.
The only way I can sell you on this chaotic neutral version of book choosing is just by saying, try it sometime, and you’ll see.
But I digress. Using this open-mind-casting-net method, I found myself suddenly reading a book I had ignored since I impulse ordered the outstandingly beautiful UK cover of it (see below to understand) in 2022. Described as both “deeply-romantic” (suspicion inducing to me) and “fabulously strange” (now we’re talking), I had no idea what to expect. The basis of the story can be summed up as follows: A routine submarine expedition goes very wrong; all hell breaks loose (in increments). I prefer this one line description over giving you a more detailed version of this plot. To analyze this plot would be to watch it slip through your hands like the water it’s set in. So if you do decide to go swimming through this novel, I recommend you go in as I did: Hold your breath, pinch your eyes shut, and immerse.
Welcome to the frigid gulp of the sea.
This book is, as promised, “fabulously strange”. It helps to know that ahead of time. Gums bleed, teeth roll out unimpeded, bodies change and all but collapse. The essence of what makes us human, what makes us loved/lovable is teased apart to see where we connect at the seams. To see if we are strong enough to love in the first place. You will root for the wives, Miri and Leah, for their beautifully non-toxic marriage, a thing to cherish, even as its pulled under, 6,000 ft below sea level. You may even find yourself laughing (!! The range!!) at the way we humans are always trying to find connection and support, even from the discombobulating form of Facebook support groups.
I felt clear and hollowed out when I finished this book, a fragile shell cast to shore, a piece of glass tumbled smooth. I felt loved but also, jealous of a kind of love that epitomizes “if you love them enough you’ll let them go”. Even as the book’s ending is closing in, compressing you on all sides and spiraling darker, I didn’t want for it to end. I wanted to bargain for a longer story, for a different world than the one it was set in, where workers are replaceable, and corporations are often held unaccountable for their abuse of said workers (aka our world). I was reminded of the beauty and terror of the ocean, the blue mass that overreaches us all, a thing without a mouth that can effortlessly swallow ships whole. Maybe it’s just because I once had seawater fill up my own lungs (the result of a near fatal drowning), and the sea extended it’s reach into me then, a possession that puppets me into recommending this book so the ocean can preen to it’s own mysterious and violent nature. In that case, both the sea an I believe this to be a perfect beach read for the strange, for the unusual, for the longing.
My favorite quotes from the book:
“To know the ocean, I have always felt, is to recognize the teeth it keeps half hidden.”
“Did you know that until very recently, more people had been to the moon than had dived beyond depths of six thousand meters? I think about this often- the inhospitableness of certain places. A footprint, once left on the surface of the moon, might in theory remain as it is almost indefinitely. Uneroded by atmosphere, by wind or by rain, any mark made up there could quite easily last for several centuries. The ocean is different, the ocean covers its tracks.”