Through stylistic understatement and perfect tonal pitch, this memoir somehow achieves its outlandish ambitions.
In lesser hands, a narrative steeped in obsessions with Moby-Dick and surfing and skateboarding would strain to make connections, especially when it’s also a coming-of-age, rite-of-passage memoir by a 30-something author who has trouble letting go of or committing to anything while recognizing that he should have grown up long ago. An avid skateboarder in Colorado with a graduate degree that lets him teach creative writing at the university level, Hocking (co-editor: Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write from the Deep End, 2004) gave it all up, along with a fulfilling romantic relationship, to move to New York for…what? He took a job delivering food and another reading manuscripts for rejection. He worked on a novel that was “basically going nowhere.” Incongruously enough, he discovered surfing, which offered a natural progression from his passion for skateboarding: “Like the majority of actual New York residents, I had no idea surfing was even possible here. Could you really ride the subway to the beach? If so, could you surf in the morning and hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art that same afternoon?” Thus New York allowed Hocking to develop a passion for surfing, which shared an ocean with his longtime obsession with Melville (whose paths through the city he retraced) and what appears to be an obsession with himself and with romance, coupled with an ambivalence toward commitment—to anything. “You know, you talk about loving everyone all the time like you’re some sort of enlightened being,” said the girlfriend over whom his obsession deepened after they split. “But the only reason you love anyone is to make yourself feel better.” Therapy, 12-step programs, a nervous breakdown, spiritual crisis and renewal, friends, career and geographical change, and some life-threatening experiences helped transform the author and deepen his appreciation of Moby-Dick.
In a book that’s likely far richer than the novel he shelved, Hocking ultimately transcends “the dark Ahab force.”