Man gets girl…man loses girl…man gets (new) girl.
While the plot is hardly new, Merritt (Possessed by Shadows, 2005, etc.) rings some changes on the old tune. The shadow of Hemingway looms over the style, and even aspects of the plot and setting, of the narrative, but most of the action plays out off the coast of Kona, Hawaii, rather than, say, off the coast of Cuba. The male-fantasy woman here is Victoria Novak, of whose incandescent beauty and sexual readiness we’re constantly reminded. The doomed lover is Morgan Cary, who at the beginning of the novel mournfully returns to Hawaii to lament his wife’s putative suicide, for which he feels responsible. Cary, an itinerant fisherman, writer and doctorate candidate, has done the unforgivable: He has “stolen” Victoria away from Tioni Brown, a native Hawaiian who’s also Cary’s deckhand and best friend. Passion has its own rules, however, so Cary and Victoria leave Hawaii for what they hope will be the emotionally warmer climes of southern California, where Cary can find a more stable life than that offered by fishing off the Kona coast. He pens Decompression, a moderately successful novel; gives up the academic life (except for teaching creative writing to an adoring throng of fans); and makes the grievous mistake of having a torrid affair with Emily, his most talented student. This sexual escapade doesn’t escape the notice of the increasingly tormented and emotionally unstable Victoria, who overdoses on pills, giving Cary reason to feel a great deal of grief as the possible cause of her death. Cary comes back to life by developing a fatherly relationship with Ben Iki, the grandson of his piscatorial mentor, and a healing love relationship with Ben’s mother, one that is far more moderate than his scorching relationship with Victoria.
Not exactly Catherine and Heathcliff, but still an engaging journey through passion and redemption.