Saturday, 3 September 2011

Book Review: The Water Men by Adelaide MacKenzie Fuss

The Water MenA life in California, surfing in the Pacific, to me sounds perfect. Devon, England is hardly the West Coast. My view of the lifestyle has probably been distorted by too many American TV shows so this book sounded like a bit of an antidote.

Shawn McGuire was living the American dream, but it has now faded and he's wide awake. He has retired at the age of 36, a multi-millionaire, and returned to his home town of Newport Beach. His plan is to surf and to find some sort of spiritual nourishment. His mum hasn't seen him for years and is a prickly lady to deal with. His neighbours are mostly in a similar position, millionaires with time on their hands and not much in the way of a plan. He realises his mum is one of the things drawing him back, the unsolved disappearance of a former schoolmate is another.

This story charts about a year in Shawn's life, although until near the end the timescale isn't clear which gave me the same sort of drifting, unanchored feeling I imagine Shawn would have after a life in the hectic business world. He find some sort of purpose in his life when he rescues abandoned dog Oliver, who leads him to the woman he marries. Theirs isn't a conventional marriage though and Shawn focuses more time on rescuing alcoholic neighbour Russ and former surgeon Jimmy. He also finds a way to try and do some good for the community. While doing all of this things start to come together for him.

With the description talking about Shawn searching for missing pieces of his soul I did wonder whether this might be a little too philosophical and highbrow to be a really enjoyable read. I turned out to be totally wrong. Shawn is a nice guy who has made good and is now searching for meaning beyond his value in $$$s. As a character I really warmed to him and the good things he was doing in his search for a better life. The author's descriptions of the Pacific and the surf lifestyle, while blunt about the potential dangers, has made me determined to make it as far as the West coast one day. It sounds amazing.

This is a wonderful piece of contemporary fiction that I have been thinking about since I finished it yesterday. I think it is one of those books that will stay with me for longer than most as I continue to think about what is really important in life and what brings a person meaning. This may make it sound like a heavy read but it really wasn't, and although it's a reasonable length it was the work of a day to read it. Love it!

Format: Paperback, review copy
My Rating: 5*


Stephen T. Harper said...

That sounds like a good read. An insider take on the California surf culture could be really interesting. I live just up the highway a bit from Newport Beach in Marina Del Rey. It is definitely beautiful here. Unfortunately, I'm not quite ready to retire!

Mark Boss said...

This books sounds different and interesting. If you enjoyed the parts about California surf culture, you might want to try a thriller called Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow. It is violent and sometimes disturbing, but it gives an interesting look into the lives of surfers and that area of southern California.

TC said...

Maybe soon Stephen! I'd settle for just a holiday there for now.

Mark, thanks for the recommendation, will go and look it up.