Sunday, January 31, 2021

Snap Out of It

In the film, Moonstruck,  Nicholas Cage is smitten by Cher.  Their relationship cannot continue but Cage is still slobbering his affection for Cher.  Cher feels she has no recourse but to whack Cage across the face and say, "Snap out of it."

I just finished reading Scott Spencer's novel, An Ocean Without a Shore.  I've read several of his books and a number focus on unrequited love.  The protagonists in these novels, Endless Love, A Ship Made of Paper, are filled with longing for another who, for whatever reason is elusive. An Ocean Without a Shore is of the same ilk in terms of plot except the protagonist is a man and the object of his affection is also a man.  Otherwise it is a similar story.  The guy can't escape from his affections.  

I thought Endless Love was terrible. I only read it because it was heralded and I had read another Scott Spencer novel, Man in the Woods, which I thought was terrific.  After Endless Love I thought I would give Spencer another shot and read A Ship Made of Paper which was very good.  Then three years ago I picked up River Under the Road Also good.

While I felt like telling the characters in A Ship Made of Paper and An Ocean without a Shore, to--like Cher said to Cage--"snap out of it"  I highly recommend An Ocean without a Shore with my only reservation the repetitive story line.  That the character in A Ocean lusts after a man, as opposed to a woman in A Ship Made of Paper or Endless Love seems irrelevant--the point is the same.  Once you get hooked, according to Spencer, you're not going to get unhooked.  

Yet this book is much more than the story line.  Brief synopsis below that gives not much away.  Skip the next paragraph if you want to know nothing.

The same characters that appear in River Under the Road are back twenty or so years later in An Ocean Without a Shore.  Thaddeus and Grace live in a big house in Rhinebeck (which is called Leyden in the book).  They now have two kids, one in college and one a teen.  The book opens with Thaddeus calling Kip-a New York friend from the earlier book--because he needs money to keep the house.  

Essentially that is how the book launches. But what is special about the book is how Spencer creates dialogue and reactions from the main characters which seems so spot on.  He describes Thaddeus and then, whatever Thaddeus does and says from then on seems so precisely what Thaddeus would say or do or even how he would gesture. The reaction to Thaddeus and his parents, his interaction with his wife, his suspicions about his wife's affairs, his reaction to his kids' behaviors, I wanted to shake my head and say, how did you possibly capture this?  Then certain peripheral characters--a lawyer, the caretaker on the property, the parents, a rich neighbor, Kip's boss, Thaddeus's uncle--all have limited parts, but I felt like they were so real. Like I know them or know of people like them, and yes, that is how they would speak and react.

I get the sense from reading Scott Spencer that he got his heart broken but good as a young man.   I do think that at some point you stop commiserating with someone who can't let heartbreak go. Not suggesting you forget whom you love, but rather you should be able to make a piece of toast or have a pizza without running face first into a wall of longing.  But all that is an aside to why I recommend the book.  Spencer just nails relationships between friends, relatives, parents, and enemies.  I'd recommend reading A River Under the Road first, since this is really a continuation.  But An Ocean Without a Shore can stand on its own if you choose not to.  I read somewhere that this will be a trilogy and the way it ends I think the next book will be about the caretaker's wife-an unreconstructed free spirit.

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