I'm very glad that after decades of reading I still get excited about books. That I still feel the magic of picking up a book and being swept away on a wave of imagination. Of being so enthusiastic about a book that everything else disappears while I am engaged in it.

I just read two novels that deal with surfing. I thought it was pretty unique, but I should have known that there is a whole field of surf fiction. The two I read are both among the finest novels I have read in my life.

The first was Don Winslow's The Gentlemen's Hour. This book is a sequel to a previous novel called The Dawn Patrol. They both feature surfer and private detective Boone Daniels.

Daniels is a laid back guy who'd much rather ride a wave, or even simply lounge in the ocean, than earn a buck. Or at least grill fish tortillas. Boone has to chase a buck now and then, and this time he finds himself immersed in emotionally troubling circumstances.

A beloved Hawaiian surf legend and spiritual leader is slain by a young surf punk. The community is outraged and after blood. Boone Daniels finds himself unable to avoid working for the defense. As usual in these kind of matters, the crime isn't as simple as it seems.

Boone Daniels evokes the ire of the surfing community, the police, and most painful of all, his surfing crew, The Dawn Patrol. Even while he is forced to question the wisdom of his own life choices.

The Gentlemen's Hour is a breathtaking novel of detection, but it is more than that. It is s story of spiritual reassessment and the agony of growing older.

If there is a better writer of popular fiction than Don Winslow, I'd really like to know who it is. This guy is astonishingly good. I've read my share of detective/suspense novels in my time, but I really, truly, honestly have never enjoyed one more than The Gentlemen's Hour.

Paul Theroux has been a favorite of mine since I saw The Mosquito Coast back in early 1987. I loved the movie, and I sought out the novel. I loved the book even more. Since then I've read every piece of fiction I could lay my hands on from Mr. Theroux, and a lot of the nonfiction as well. He is one of the most distinguished writers on the planet.

Theroux calls Under the Wave at Waimea his most personal novel. That's saying a lot when one considers autobiographical books like My Secret History and Mother Land. This new novel from the eighty-year-old Paul Theroux deals with an older surfer named Joe (Da Shark) Sharkey. Sharkey was once one of the world's most renowned professional surfers. Now, in his sixties, he is being forgotten.

Sharkey resents many of the younger surfers, feeling that they do not have the spiritual conviction he and his contemporaries had. One night after a few too many drinks and some marijuana, he hits a man on a bicycle and kills him. "A drunk homeless guy" he decides. The police know Da Shark and he is let off.

Sharkey shrugs off the event as an accident, but he becomes haunted by it. He loses interest in the water, he becomes forgetful and he repeats himself over and over again. Da Shark is slowly dying from the repressed guilt.

We go back and experience Sharkey's life. How as a haole, a white non native Hawaiian, he was bullied in school, and how that led to the shores of the ocean where he is free of all constraints.

Along the way Sharkey sees success and a life of ease, even while his soul erodes. He makes the acquaintance of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, and befriends him, just as Theroux did in real life. These are some of the most enjoyable and poignant sections of Under the Wave of Waimea. Thompson is portrayed as a powerful, magnetic, but ultimately tragic figure.

Sharkey's wife insists that they find out more about the man he killed, and he embarks on a quest that has terrible but also uplifting revelations. Along the way Joe Sharkey discovers the man he should have been all along.

Theroux suggests that life is a series of waves. Some we ride into success and happiness. Other times we wipe out.

We've all seen older writers hurt their reputations with books published in their old age. Theroux suffers no such damage. I can honestly say that Under the Wave at Waimea is the best novel he has written to date, and it is among the finest, most powerful and moving books I have ever read.

Can all surfing novels be this good? I plan to find out. I have purchased Ken Nunn's Tapping the Source, which is a winner of the National Book Award and is considered to be the Bible of Surfing Fiction.

Written by Mark Sieber

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