A deeply damaged woman flirts with death in the depths of underwater caves.
Toronto-born writer and novelist Levine (Requests and Dedications, 2005, etc.) uses raw, hallucinatory prose to tell this curious story of a woman becoming undone. The book’s central protagonist is Marilyn Wolfe, a woman who is deeply angry at the world: “All she was also pissed at—death of her parents, cancer and a subway bomb within days of each other, boom-boom then a comet tail of grief sparking in their wake, year of parched, thirsty.” The only solace Marilyn finds is in her love of diving and the company of her best friend, Jane, a cipher who mostly exists in Marilyn’s memory of their idyllic childhood: “Cicada-time, girl-time of cigarettes filched from parents turned statues by coursing girl-hormones, of hash brownies and baked-baby brownies and other sundry legends. Wild dominion of fast friends who traced freckles on each other’s backs and told fortunes that turned into toads or jumped ship hands clasped and never let go.” But Marilyn’s grief turns dangerous when Jane starts joining Marilyn and her risk-taking husband, Rand, for “crunch diving,” a subset of scuba diving to explore very small caves and shipwrecks. Rand says it’s “like diving for hours inside a coffin.” Jane dies during a dive, her air depleted under mysterious circumstances. Readers are left inside Marilyn’s raw emotions, her self-loathing, and doubt as she continues to push herself to dangerous depths, competing with the ghost of her dead friend. Levine’s turns of phrases and deft use of language are often brilliant, but her fragmented prose doesn’t always serve the narrative, leaping back and forth in time and offering fragments in lieu of facts. Still, the novel’s visceral wordplay, rough sexuality, and anguished depiction of survivor’s guilt are bound to captivate its audience.
A transgressive, gut-wrenching portrayal of grief that asks what it’s like to drown.