book review · books · shanti

Review: One Would Think The Deep

I have gone surfing like…once? But One Would Think The Deep has lots of surfing and I didn’t mind at all. I struggled to read this book, and I think it’s because Claire Zorn’s strength let her down. She is excellent, even superb, at conveying the elements of real life. This gives her narratives a visceral quality. But here, she failed to collect them into a coherent story.  This is also #LoveOzYA, it’s set in Australia in the late 90’s which was cool and means that all the characters are now like middle aged.

What happens in this story? Sam’s mother dies, and he has to find a totally new life. He has two cousins and an aunt. One of the cousins is dead set on surfing career and the other is his coach and HATES Sam with a wild passion. The aunt is pretty indifferent. There’s also a Nana, and a tangled, awful, family history which is kept secret from Sam. Sam moves to this new place, meets this chick Ruby who is adopted and probably Aboriginal but her family is discouraging her from exploring this. Sam goes surfing, mopes, falls for this girl called Gretchen, skates, and likes this dude called Jeff Buckley (it’s set in 1997 early into the surfing scene and hence all the musical references are from that time)
That was a list of things which happen in the book. But I couldn’t tell you what the book is actually about. Sam, obviously, is the main character. And he’s in a different place by then end of the story: happier, slightly; more understanding, somewhat. I think that characterisation, slow and painful and confusing, was done very well. But Zorn fails to trace an obvious track through the book. Family secrets are revealed, tears are cried, waves are ridden. Life goes on for Sam and he realises that, slowly, painfully, perhaps exquisitely. Zorn’s writing is emotional and sensitive. The lack of a coherent narrative, however, made it hard for me to read the book. I wasn’t compelled to keep reading. I drifted, and I didn’t care about the characters.
And maybe that isn’t the point. As a piece of fiction about people, about surfing, and about the blurred lines to discovering who you are, One Would Think The Deep works well. As a piece of life that could be real, it’s perfect. But I don’t want to just read lives, I want to read stories, so I left this book less happy than I would have liked to be.
This is a textured, layered story with perfect pieces of complexity. They just don’t add up to what I wanted them to.

What is a hyper-realistic story you’ve read? And have you read this one? let me know in the comments!


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