The tide gets rough for an aging California surfer and war vet when he discovers his obituary in the local newspaper.
Socrates “Soc” Smith is your typical laidback California native, content with a simple lifestyle that includes thumbing through the newspaper in the morning, watching movies in the evening with his wife, Jayne, and cruising down to the nearby beaches in his ’48 Woody to scope out the waves on his days off. One Saturday morning he happens upon the local paper’s obituary page, which contains a pronouncement of his death. Assuming the listing is nothing more than an accident or a friend’s benign joke, he prepares to get to the bottom of things the following Monday morning. His plans are complicated when, that afternoon, Jayne receives his official death certificate in the mail. What Soc assumes to be a simple matter of clarifying facts with county officials and newspaper editors turns into a fruitless game of trying to convince people that he’s alive. To make matters worse, Soc’s purportedly abandoned job is already filled by a younger man, and Jayne receives a $50,000 life insurance check. Concluding that there’s little anyone can do to bring him back to life, Soc realizes he’s off the public grid and hits the surf all week to sort things out. Suddenly faced with the possibility of leaving his wife of 25 years in pursuit of the Kerouac-like escapades he’s always dreamed of, Soc must wrestle with the fact that “someone else made him dead.” But what starts out as an intriguing premise with lots of potential for metaphysical musings on life and death, or at least a modern-day male anti-adventure, becomes a droll scrutiny of a common man with humdrum aspirations. Soc is so averse to risk during the first two-thirds of this brief book that it’s difficult to care whether or not his quandary is amended. Arthur takes great pains to describe Soc’s every action in many sections, leaving much of the content feeling like filler material: “He changed the channel to a boxing match. He watched a round until a commercial came on. He jumped around the channels for a couple minutes and then he switched back to the fight. He watched that round, and then he turned the T.V. off.” Much of the story is otherwise conveyed through snappy dialogue and Soc’s turbulent reflections, which some readers will find a redemptive quality, particularly as Soc makes his final decisions.
A short novel that might have served better as a short story.