JACOB'S WELL by Stephen Harrigan


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Harrigan's first novel, Aransas--about dolphin training--had an oddly powerful impact; this somewhat similar follow-up has little. Water is again the book's modal element. This time, however, instead of concentrating on the noble Intelligence of animals, Harrigan explores the emotional fecklessness of three skindivers: Libby Marsh and husband Sam; diving teacher Rick Trammel. Libby and Sam, living in Austin, Texas, are separated. They've lost a newborn baby, and the marriage hasn't been the same since. Sam, a geologist, has a brief and passionless affair with Janet, an ornithologist. But Libby's romance with Rick is more profound, taking on metaphorical layers from Pick's expertise in exploring Jacob's Well: an underwater cave, beneath a placid country creek, which has killed scores of divers who've delved into the Well's subterranean rooms and chimneys. And eventually Rick and Libby and Sam all dive into Jacob's Well together. The symbolism of inner exploration here is thick, far from lightfooted. Even more damaging, however, is the novel's desultory, momentum-less nature: Harrigan turns his un-complex themes over again and again--diving, natural danger, personal history--without saying much that's genuinely interesting about any of them. An ambitious but listless novel, then, with the Austin setting (where everyone seems to know everyone else) adding to the ingrown effect.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster