Rating:The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey. Doubleday (2010), 318 pages.
Oh, Susan. I’m so embarrassed for you. Aren’t you embarrassed? Must all your books become a paean to your unbridled lust for one of the main characters? When you had an affair with one of the scientists in The Devil’s Teeth, it didn’t distract terribly from the story, and we, the readers, figured it was a unique occurrence. But now you’re lustily chasing after all the surfers in this book, particularly Laird Hamilton—a married man—and it’s too much. It’s too much!
I bought this book because I had faith in your ability to write about natural science in an engaging manner. (The Devil’s Teeth was fabulous, and won a Gustine in 2005.) Also, I love tsunamis and rogue waves. Adore them! Can’t get enough of them! What a pity that your book treats those topics so brusquely in order to devote more space to surfers and how hot they are. As well as page upon page of actual surfer dialogue, so that we can hear for ourselves how awesome they are:
“Ah, cuz,” Shearer said. “The weather was just shit. Totally ridiculous. It was like, ‘Where’d this come from?’ Visibility less than a mile…”
“It was spooky,” Emory agreed. “We rolled up to the beach thinking, ‘Ah, it’s nothing.’ We got out there and it was like, ‘Woah! Wake-up call! Holy shit!”
“It was all disorganized and funky,” Shearer recalled. “I’d never seen it like that. It was really screwed up…”
Casil reached into the cooler and passed out another round. “That whole day just sounds cartoonish,” he said.
“Oh, it was, Lickle said, popping open a can. “The bigger it got, there was no reality to it. It was the friggin’ Twilight Zone.”
From somewhere back in the garage, Hamilton chimed in: “It was another scale! Other scale. Metric scale.”
In other words, this is not a book for people who like science and/or nature writing. It’s a book pretending to be something it’s not, and using the success of its predecessor to lure people into a purchase they will regret…unless you are the sort of person who actually wants to hear the rest of the above conversation, which continues on in the same vein for nine and a half more pages.
Susan employs a very tiresome tone throughout the book: one that shouts, “I was there! I was there! I know these surfers personally! We shared beer and secrets together!” I’m pretty sure she intends for her audience to feel painfully jealous.
I did feel bitter, not because Susan and the surfers got along so famously, but because there are only two chapters (36 pages out of 318) that are worth reading. Chapter 7 (I Never Saw Anything Like It) tells the story of the landslide-induced-tsunami-prone Lituya Bay, Alaska, which has endured numerous cataclysmic tsunamis, and explores, in great detail, the 1958 event that decimated the bay. That chapter also touches on the 1964 earthquake centered near Prince William Sound, Alaska, which caused a devastating tsunami in Crescent City, Oregon. Great material, well-written…but alas, the next chapter returns to the hot surfers.
The other chapter worth reading (rounding out the 36 pages worth your time and money) is Chapter 9 (Heavy Weather), which discusses rogue waves (the only place in the book where you will learn about rogue waves, Susan’s subtitle for the book notwithstanding).
Check this book out of your local library and read only those two chapters.
EXCERPTS (Lusty Hamilton-love):
[Hamilton’s] blond hair whipped back in the spray; his muscular arms were spread wide for balance as he plummeted down the wave on a tiny board. He had classically handsome features, chiseled and intense, but no fear showed on his face, only rapt focus.
* * * *
I noticed Hamilton across the yard, puttying a fin onto a surfboard. His movements were brisk and efficient, his arm muscles flexing as he worked. It was an improbable display of vigor….
* * * *
If you spent time around Hamilton, you learned to sense his moods. His energy was the high-octane sort; along with the extra power, there was a heightened risk of detonation. When Hamilton was frustrated or upset, his whole presence signaled it. His eyes flashed a duller color than their usual sea green and hardened into a disconcerting stare, his movements tightened, his voice became lower and flatter, his muscles flexed as though spoiling for a fight.
The hallmark of every good romance novel is a thorough description of the protagonist’s eyes and how they change color depending on mood. Also, they must “flash.” Flashing is de rigueur. (Although how eyes could flash “duller” I don’t understand, since flashing usually denotes a lightening in color.) Could this book please be categorized as Romance so that people interested in nature writing are not deceived?