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book review: The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

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Is the mark of a good book the depth of feeling, or is the mark of a good book the wanting to understand how it fits your life? The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer is the first book I’ve read in a long time that does not fit the standard pattern. You know, how romances and mysteries are predictable and always have a happy ending? I wasn’t sure if this one was going to; and I’m certainly not going to spoil the surprise and tell you whether it does or not.

In fact, as I begin this review, I haven’t even finished the book yet. I’m about 10 pages away. I can think I know what is going to happen, and I can feel okay with telling you it isn’t what I expected as I was reading the first 400-odd pages. And I really hope I accept what the main character does with her life. But it doesn’t really matter as long as she’s happy with it, and I sense she will be.

The premise of the book is the stuttering relationship of Carrie Bell and Mike Mayer. Carrie and Mike were high school sweethearts — in love since age 14 — and headed towards forever together in a generic Wisconsin town. In the first few pages we learn that Carrie had fallen out of love with Mike but didn’t know how to tell him or what to do next. It was all about expectations, you know? And then he dove from Clausen’s Pier and broke his neck. He lived but was permanently paralyzed.

And in a way, so was Carrie. She made some hard choices, mostly unconsciously, as she casted around in her new future. Her actions helped her start to move again. She made friends and broke up with friends. She found talents and surprised herself. She started to talk to people and ask questions… in a definitely un-Midwestern-like way. And then she had to decide if she was cut out for midwestern life… or not.

I think the book is about knowing yourself and the people in your life and being happy with how they fit together. I think it’s about making family where you are and with who you need. I think it’s about loving others even if you’re not sure how or why.

As I worked through the last few pages of the book (before I started writing, of course), I reached for the tissues several times. Probably because I feel that Carrie is a lot like me. Her Mike is like my Mike. Her Kilroy is like my Kilroy. And at this point in the book, I’m not sure that she’s meant to end up with either of them. (If you’re reading this and wondering if you’re Mike or Kilroy, you’re not. Neither of these characters in my life would care enough about me to read this.)

I knew this before, but love is tough. Carrie is tough, too, and I admire her. I still don’t know what is going to happen — in my life or in Carries — but I wish us both the best of luck. And I highly recommend this book.

(I’ve recently learned that there is a Lifetime movie made of this book. I recommend that you steer clear. I’ve read the reviews. It sounds like they’ve massacred the book. It is so rare that a movie can do justice to a book anyway.)

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