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How much do we owe the people we love? Is it a sign of strength or weakness to walk away from someone in need? These questions lie at the heart of Ann Packer’s intimate and emotionally thrilling new novel, which has won its author comparisons with Jane Hamilton and Sue Miller.
At the age of twenty-three Carrie Bell has spent her entire life in Wisconsin, with the same best friend and the same dependable, easygoing, high school sweetheart. Now to her dismay she has begun to find this life suffocating and is considering leaving it–and Mike–behind. But when Mike is paralyzed in a diving accident, leaving seems unforgivable and yet more necessary than ever. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier animates this dilemma–and Carrie’s startling response to it–with the narrative assurance, exacting realism, and moral complexity we expect from the very best fiction.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Series:||Vintage Contemporaries Series|
|Product dimensions:||5.06(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.92(d)|
|Lexile:||830L (what's this?)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Hometown:San Carlos, California
Date of Birth:1959
Place of Birth:Stanford, California
Education:B.A., Yale University; M.F.A., University of Iowa
Read an Excerpt
When something terrible happens to someone else, people often use the word "unbearable." Living through a child's death, a spouse's, enduring some other kind of permanent loss–it's unbearable, it's too awful to be borne, and the person or people to whom it's happened take on a kind of horrible glow in your mind, because they are in fact bearing it, or trying to: doing the thing that it's impossible to do. The glow can be blinding at first–it can be all you see–and although it diminishes as years pass it never goes out entirely, so that late some night when you are wandering the back pathways of your mind you may stop at the sudden sight of someone up ahead, signaling even now with a faint but terrible light.
Mike's accident happened to Mike, not to me, but for a long time afterward I felt some of that glow, felt I was giving it off, so that even doing the most innocuous errand, filling my car with gas or buying toothpaste, I thought everyone around me must see I was in the middle of a crisis.
Yet I didn't cry. The first days at the hospital were full of crying–Mike's parents crying, his brother and sister, and Rooster, maybe Rooster most of all–but I was dry-eyed. My mother and Jamie told me it was because I was numb, and I guess that was part of it, numb and terrified: when I looked at him it was as if years had unwound, and I'd just met him, and I couldn't stand not knowing what was going to happen. But there was something else, too: everyone was treating me so carefully and solicitously that I felt breakable, and yet I wasn't broken. Mike was broken, and I wasn't broken. He was separate from me, and that was shocking.
He was in a coma. Thanks to the combination of drought and a newly banked-up shoreline, the water in Clausen's Reservoir had been three feet lower than usual. If he woke up, it would be to learn that he'd broken his neck.
But he didn't wake up. Days went by, and then it was a week, ten days, and he was still unconscious, lying in Intensive Care in a tiny room crowded with machines, more than I ever would have imagined. He was in traction, his shaven head held by tongs attached to weights, and because he had to be turned onto his stomach every few hours to avoid bedsores, his bed was a two-part contraption that allowed for this: a pair of giant ironing-board-shaped things that could sandwich him and flip him. Visiting hours were three p.m. to eight p.m., ten minutes per hour, two people at a time, but it seemed we'd no sooner get in to see him than the nurses would ask us to leave. It was as if, merely body now, he belonged to them.
Near the nursing station there was a small lounge, and that's where we mostly were, talking or not talking, looking at each other or not looking. There would be five of us, or ten, or twenty: a core group of family and close friends, plus Mike's co-workers stopping by after the bank had closed, the Mayers' neighbors checking in, my mother arriving with bags of sandwiches. There was a rack of ancient magazines by the door, and we offered them to each other now and then, just for something to do. I couldn't read, but whenever the single, warped issue of Vogue came my way I flipped through it, pausing each time at an article about a clothing designer in London. I'm not sure I ever noticed her name, but I can still remember the clothes: a fitted, moss green velvet jacket; a silver dress with long, belled sleeves; a wide, loose sweater in deep purple mohair. I was getting through the evenings by sewing, a pair of cotton shorts or a summer dress every two or three days, and those exotic images from London kept appearing in my mind as I bent over my sewing machine, reminding me at once of the hospital and the world.
The two-week mark came, and when I woke that morning I thought of something one of the doctors had said early on, that each week he was unconscious the prognosis got worse. ("Unresponsive" was the word they used, and whenever I heard it I thought of myself in the car on the way to Clausen's Reservoir, not answering his questions.) Two weeks was only one day more than thirteen days, but I felt we'd turned a corner that shouldn't have been turned, and I couldn't get myself out of bed.
I lay on my side. The bedsheets were gritty and soft with use; I hadn't changed them since the accident. I reached for my quilt, lying in a tangle down past my feet. I'd made it myself one summer during high school, a patchwork of four-inch squares in no particular order, though I'd limited myself to blues and purples and the overall effect was nice. I'd read somewhere that quiltmakers "signed" their work with a little deviation, so in one corner I'd used a square cut from an old shirt of Mike's, white with a black windowpane check. I found that square now and arranged the quilt so it was near my face.
He had to wake up. He had to. I couldn't stand to think of what a bitch I'd been at Clausen's Reservoir–what a bitch all spring. It was like a horrible equation: my bitchiness plus his fear of losing me equaled Mike in a coma. I knew as clearly as I knew anything that I'd driven him to dive, to impress me. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to remember when everything between us had been fine. February? January? Christmas? Maybe not even Christmas: he'd given me plain pearl earrings that were very pretty and exactly what I would have wanted just a year earlier, but I found them stodgy and obvious, and I felt dead inside–not because of the earrings but because of my disappointment in them. "Do you like them?" he said uneasily. "I love them," I lied.
It was June now. I had the day off work, and at last I got up and made coffee, then started laying out the pattern for an off-white linen jacket I'd been planning to make, first ironing the crumpled tissue and then moving the pieces around on the length of fabric until I was satisfied. I pinned them and cut them out with my Fiskars, then went back and did the notches, snip by snip. I chalked the pattern marks onto the fabric, and by late morning I was sitting at my Bernina winding a bobbin, entranced by the fast whir of it, by the knowledge that for hours now I'd be at the machine, my foot on the pedal.
I'd been sewing for eleven years, since my first home ec class in junior high, when I'd made an A-line skirt and fallen in love. It was the inexorability of it that appealed to me, how a length of fabric became a group of cut-out pieces that gradually took on the shape of a garment. I loved everything about it, even the little snipped threads to be gathered and thrown away, the smell of an overheated iron, the scatter of pins at the end of the day. I loved how I got better and better, closer and closer with each thing I made to achieving just what I'd hoped.
When the phone rang at eight-thirty that evening I'd taken a few breaks for iced cranberry juice, but mostly I'd sat there sewing, and the sound woke me from the work. Surprised by how dark it had gotten, I pushed away from the table and turned on a light, blinking at the jacket parts that lay everywhere, the slips of pattern and the pinked-off edges of seams. I was starving, my back and shoulders knotted and aching.
It was Mrs. Mayer. She asked how I was, told me she'd heard it might rain, and then cleared her throat and said she'd appreciate it if I'd stop by the next day.
The morning sun slanted down the sidewalk, aiming my shadow in the direction of Lake Mendota. My car was already hot to the touch, and I unlocked it and rolled down the windows, then strolled to the end of the block and stood looking across Gorham Street at the water, still almost colorless under the early sky. Mike loved Lake Mendota, the way the city hugged its curves. He liked to pull people into debating the relative merits of it and Lake Monona, Madison's other big lake: he'd reel off a list of ways that Mendota was superior, as if it were a team he supported.
Mendota and Monona. "Sounds like bad names for twins," a girl from New York had said to me once, and I'd never been able to forget it. I laughed, but I was a little offended: she spoke so smugly, flipping her brown hair over her shoulder and raising her chin. I hardly knew her–she was in my freshman American history class at the U–but thinking about her five years later, I remembered this: that she'd owned a jacket I'd coveted, pearl-snapped and collarless like something made of cotton fleece, but fashioned from smooth black napa leather, soft as skin.
Across the street two guys sauntered by. They both wore sunglasses with tiny mirrored lenses–one guy's tinted blue, the other's green. "No fucking way," I heard one of them say.
I went back to my car. It had a baked vinyl smell, and the seat scorched my legs. I always took the same route to the Mayers', an easy six-to eight-minute drive up Gorham to University and then up the hill, but today I headed away from Gorham instead. I crossed the isthmus that divided the lakes, and when I got close to Lake Monona I drove up and down the streets parallel to it, braking occasionally to look at some of my favorite houses: Victorians painted colors you didn't see in other neighborhoods, fuchsia and teal and deep purple. At a little lakeside park I got out and walked down to the water, where a cloud of gnats swarmed over the grassy green edge. Both lakes could lift my spirits–silvery blue when the sun was low, or vast and frosty in winter–but today they seemed flat and ordinary.
Unable to put it off any longer, I returned to my car. At the hospital I'd felt Mrs. Mayer watching me and watching me, waiting for me to break down; when the familiar shape of Mike's house came into view a little later, she was watching again, standing at the living room window with the curtain held aside, as if she'd heard I was on my way but didn't believe it.
I got out of my car. The house was big and white, a perfectly symmetrical colonial with black-shuttered windows and an iron eagle on the black front door. I hadn't been over since the accident, but the yard was as tidy as ever, the lawn so well trimmed I couldn't help thinking of something Mike liked to say, that his father came outside every morning and greeted each blade of grass by name. I thought of Mr. Mayer mowing, the smell of grass everywhere while he tried not to wonder if Mike would survive, and my stomach tilted with panic.
Mrs. Mayer opened the door. "Hi," she said with a smile. "I'm glad you're here."
I tried to smile back. At the hospital it had been hard to look at her wrecked face, but this was almost worse: she was pale and drained, as if she'd finally run out of tears.
"Let's go into the kitchen, shall we, dear?"
I followed her through the large, old rooms: past couches where Mike and I had sat together, tables where I'd casually piled my schoolbooks. It was my house, too, in a way.
The air conditioning was blowing hard, and when we got to the kitchen Mrs. Mayer said she'd make tea. I sat at the big oak table while she filled her kettle and got tea bags from a glass jar painted with hearts.
"Mr. Mayer can't get comfortable this summer," she said. "I try to keep the house cool, but every evening he comes in and complains it's stifling. It's colder than the hospital, don't you think?" She pulled her sweater close, a boucl? cardigan she was wearing over a flowered shirtwaist dress, its "self-belt" knotted in the front. It was the kind of ageless, styleless dress she always wore, the very kind of thing I'd first liked about her, that she was happy to look like a mom.
"It is chilly," I said.
The kettle whistled and she poured from it, then brought our cups to the table. "Let me get you your lemon." She crossed to the refrigerator and took one out, then cut it into wedges. She spread them on a flowered saucer and set them before me. "Would you like a bun? We've been given so much food I don't know what to do with it all."
"Actually, I'm OK."
She pulled out the chair opposite me and sat down. She ran her hand over her hair, and I noticed that her perm had grown out, and gray roots were visible along the part line. She blew on her tea and cleared her throat. "Are you going today?"
I picked up my cup. I thought about trying to explain about yesterday–about the two-week marker, about how our reaching that point had scared me–but I knew she was aware of it, too; and scared, too; and that she'd gone anyway. I blew on my tea and took a sip, the lemon in it tart and satisfying.
"Having visitors means a lot to him."
I met her glance and then looked away. Nothing meant anything to him, that was the problem, the tragedy–that and the fact that his spinal cord had suffered an injury that could leave him paralyzed for life, quadriplegic. Thinking that way, though, that my visiting would mean nothing, made me feel churlish, a dweller on the bad side.
She was staring at me, her still-young face lined with concern. Of course I'll go, I wanted to say. I wanted to take my thumbs and run them over her forehead and cheeks. When I spoke, though, I sounded distant, even to myself. I said, "I have to work, but I'll go afterward."
She nodded, then reached across the table and took hold of my left hand. She touched the tiny diamond on my ring finger. "Michael was so happy the day he bought this, it was like something he'd made at school, he was so proud. Julie made a remark, about how it wasn't that big or something, and his face just fell. He got that hangdog look on his face and he said to me, '÷Mom, do you think Carrie'll like it?' " She let go of my hand. " '÷Do you think Carrie'll like it?' He loves you very much, dear."
I looked away from her. "I know."
We drank our tea silently. After a while I told her I wanted to go up to his room, and I climbed the stairs and turned down the hall, going past framed photographs of all three Mayer kids, school pictures mixed in with casual shots, two or three of Mike in hockey gear, his helmet off so you could see his wide grin.
At his door I hesitated, then went in. There was a musty, unused smell, and I wondered, with the air conditioning going so strong, if his windows had been opened at all since the accident. I crossed to the bed and sat down, running my fingers up and down the ribbed blue bedspread. On his bedside table there was a picture of me from high school graduation, and I picked it up and looked at it. It was a familiar picture, but the girl in it seemed only tenuously connected to who I was now. Her hair was up in a way I never wore my hair anymore, and she wore more eyeliner than I'd had on in ages, but mostly she looked sure of herself, sure she'd stay on Mike's bedside table for years and years and be happy about it.
Mike had never left home, and his room bore traces of all the different stages of him I'd known: trophies next to textbooks next to the briefcase he'd begun carrying the year before, when he started working. He had a job in new accounts at a bank near the Capitol, and as I looked around I thought of how he'd been talking lately of finally moving out, saying that since he was making good money he should get an apartment, teach himself domestic life so he wouldn't sabotage our marriage. Three or four times he'd said it, and I'd never responded. It killed me to think of it now: Mike trolling for something–just Good idea or No, better keep saving your money–and how I gave him nothing. Not even a wedding date: I deflected that question, too. Later, I kept thinking. Next year, the year after. Or I tried not to think about it at all.
I set the picture back on the bedside table, on the precise spot where it always stood. Then I lifted Mike's pillow to my face and breathed in his smell, a mixture of Dial and Right Guard and a clothes-and-body smell that was simply him.
I worked at the university library, where I'd had a work-study job while I was a student; when I graduated they offered me thirty-five hours a week, and so I stayed on. I could take or leave the job, but I liked being on campus: walking to the Union on breaks, heading up State Street to window-shop. My job was in the rare books room, where the only staff member close to my age was a graduate student named Viktor, from Poland. He was at the desk when I arrived, and I could tell right away he was in a good mood.
"Carrie, Carrie, come here." He motioned me over with a boisterous wave of his arm. Although he was sitting and I was standing, he seemed to loom over me: he was without doubt the biggest person I'd ever known, six-six with broad, beefy shoulders and a thick slab of a torso. When I first told him about Mike's accident, he grabbed me and hugged me so hard I nearly lost my breath.
Today he said, "This morning I am telling Ania that we must be more social. In Slavic studies we have parties, but they are too Slavic. You can come for dinner when?"
I glanced around. Viktor's library voice conceded nothing to the place, and several people stared at us from the long tables where they sat working, apparently waiting to hear if I'd accept. Dinner at Viktor's. This was a first, and I wondered how much it had to do with Mike's being in the hospital, and whether or not, given that Mike was in the hospital, I should go. I was about to make an excuse when a door at the back of the room opened, and the neat, prim head of our boss, Miss Grafton, poked out.
"Oops," I said quietly, but Viktor put on a big smile and waved genially at her, and after a moment her head withdrew and she closed the door.
"She loves me," he said matter-of-factly, his voice only a little lower now. "I am tall, strong, good-looking. She sees me and thinks of the agony of her dry, sexless life, but she is happy for a moment because I remind her of when it wasn't so."
"Viktor," I said.
"You don't think this is true?"
"It's just you're so modest."
He ran a hand over his bristly jaw. "I am shaving every two days now for my new look." He took my hand and made me feel his chin. "Yes, I think you like it."
I laughed. Mike loved my Viktor stories, and I thought of how funny he'd think this one was, then remembered I couldn't tell him. A feeling of something heavy moved through me, like sand falling through water. I looked away.
"Let's say a week from Saturday," he said. "We are cooking Tex-Mex. Ania is a fabulous cook, you know."
"I don't know, I–"
"Not 'I don't know,' " he said. "Yes. Yes!"
He smiled triumphantly, deep lines appearing in his stubbly cheeks. He was twenty-eight but looked older.
I moved away, ready to get to work, and he called my name.
"Viktor," I said, turning back wearily. "Miss Grafton's going to–"
"You have to relax a little, Carrie." He lifted both hands and shook his head mournfully. "We talk and we do our work, and it is not a problem."
I rolled my eyes.
"Anyway, I am just giving you a message."
He handed me a piece of paper, and I walked a few paces away and slipped between a pair of tall bookcases. In his big, blocky capitals it said, jamie. 10:30. can take lunch any time between 12 and 3 if you call by 11:45. please call. says hi. Sighing, I folded the note and put it in my pocket. Jamie worked in a copy shop three blocks away, and we sometimes met for lunch if our hours were right. The past few months I'd mostly been telling her they weren't, that I'd been given a late lunch or none at all, but recently, since the accident, she'd been pushing it, leaving messages like this one, calling at work just to say "Hi, are you OK?" I knew she was worried about me, and I felt grateful for that, or if not grateful, at least touched. I looked at my watch: 11:35. At the very least I should call to say no, but it would be so much easier not to call, to pretend I hadn't gotten the message in time. I touched my pocket and felt the note in there, the faint outline of it. Then I went and found a cart of books to shelve. Since the accident I could get away with more, which scared me.
The hospital was like a city, with distinct neighborhoods and commercial areas, and corridors inside like long, long streets. When I arrived that evening I sat in one of the lobbies for a few minutes, trying to get myself ready to go up. A farm family stood conferring near me, the men in poly-blend short-sleeved shirts that showed their brown arms and their creased, dark-red necks. Across the way, a very old woman in a wheelchair had been left by herself near a drinking fountain, a crocheted shawl over her hospital-issue gown. Mike and I had passed through this very lobby a couple years ago, when his grandfather was dying of lung cancer: his uncle Dick was too jumpy to sit for a meal, so we were searching for a box of Whoppers for him, the one thing he felt like eating. We finally found them in a gift shop just down the hall, and Mike opened them on the way back so we could each have one. Sitting there two years later, I could almost conjure up the taste of the malt on my tongue, how it burned a little next to the sweet, artificial chocolate.
I wondered: Would he look any different after a day away? Would it be any easier to see how he did look, beached on that strange bed? I hoped he'd be on his back. Seeing him on his stomach, his face framed by a cushioned oval and directed at the floor, was the hardest thing.
I happened to glance at the revolving doors just then, and there was Rooster, coming in, still in his suit. I stood up immediately. He was like Mrs. Mayer, full of hope, and I knew he'd disapprove of my just sitting there, of anything that smelled of pessimism. He put in his hours at the hospital as if they could accumulate to some good, to Mike's recovery.
He didn't see me, and I watched as he caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror and paused to make an adjustment to his tie. I couldn't help smiling: it was still funny to see him in a suit, maybe because he took the image so seriously himself. "The customers want you to look better than they do," he told me once. "It's a psychological thing." For a year he'd been working on the sales floor of a Honda dealership down on the Beltline. He referred to cars as units now, even to those of us who could remember when he'd thought of them as wheels.
I crossed the lobby and met him near the information desk. He looked at me oddly for just a moment after we'd said hi, and I wondered if he knew about my absence the day before, if Mrs. Mayer had told him.
We rode the elevator up to Intensive Care, where it was always quiet and a little dim. Several nurses sat inside the central workstation, speaking in low voices or going over charts. Surrounding them were the patient rooms, a circle of cubicles with open doors flanked by big plate-glass windows, so the nurses could see inside no matter where in the unit they happened to be. I could hear the even beeps of heart monitors, the deep whooshing sounds of ventilators. Opposite Mike's room a cubicle sat empty, and I tried to remember who'd occupied it two days earlier. An old lady, I thought. Had she stabilized and moved on? Or died and been moved out?
Rooster stopped to talk to one of the nurses, and I stopped with him. She was twenty-nine or thirty, blond, beautiful in an icy, Nordic way. Impossible, in other words, which was just his type. I stood behind him, smiling a little whenever she looked my way. The nurses knew who each of us was. Rooster was the best friend. I was the fianc?e. They'd all made a point of asking to see my ring.
Mike was on his back, and I relaxed a little at the sight of him. It wasn't any harder to see than it had been two days ago, a completely familiar body now ministered to by machines. The only thing covering him was a small cloth draped over his crotch, and the rest of him looked pale and doughy.
"Hi, Mike," Rooster said. "It's me, bud. I'm here with Carrie." He looked at me and waited, then lifted his chin a bit to urge me to speak. The nurses and doctors had encouraged us to talk to Mike, but it made me feel uncomfortable, as if I were speaking into a tape recorder. I stayed silent.
"It's June 14th," Rooster continued after a moment. "Seven-twenty p.m. I came straight from work to see you, bud." He took a piece of paper from his pocket. "Sold a Civic to a guy with a doozer of a name today. OK. This guy's a dentist, right? Moler. Dr. Richard Moler. I said to myself, That's one for the collection. That's one I gotta remember to tell Mikey."
For as long as I'd known them, Mike and Rooster had had a theory about names. Larry Speakes, the former White House spokesman. A chiropractor in the phonebook, Dr. Clinch. Driving through Menominee on their way back from a camping trip one summer, they saw a plaque on a building: Dr. Bonebrake, Orthopedist. Coincidence? Absolutely not, was their attitude. Their favorite was Rooster's freshman advisor at Madison Area Technical College, Mr. Tittman, who Rooster was willing to swear wore a bra.
Rooster folded up the piece of paper and put it back in his pocket. "You never know," he said with a shrug.
I took a few steps closer. With Rooster out of my vision, it was possible to imagine Mike and I were alone. I didn't want to speak out loud, but that didn't mean I couldn't talk to him. I looked at his face, at the shallow cleft of his chin and at his thin, pale lips. I covered his hand with mine and told him not to worry. I'm here, I told him. I'm here, I'm here.
At the elevators we ran into Mike's family, making their nightly trip back in to tell him goodnight. Mrs. Mayer was plainly relieved to see me, and even Mr. Mayer looked at me for an extra moment and nodded, as if tucking away for future analysis the knowledge that I was here now but hadn't been last night.
Rooster said he had to go, but I felt I should stay. I headed back to the lounge with them and waited while two by two they visited Mike's room. Then the five of us were all in the lounge together, and although there was no reason to stay, none of us made a move to leave. It was nearly eight, the end of a long day, and the smell of burned coffee drifted from the back corner of the room. I knew just what I'd see if I went over there: dirty coffeemaker surrounded by spilled grounds, empty blue and pink sweetener envelopes lying everywhere, carton of milk souring nearby.
"Have you seen the doctors today?"
I looked up and found Julie watching me. She was nineteen and just home from her first year of college; she wore a long print skirt and dangling silver earrings, and she smelled faintly of patchouli. I shook my head.
"I mean it, Mom," she said. "We can't just sit around on our asses and expect them to keep us completely up-to-date. We have to be active participants."
Mrs. Mayer cast me a sad smile.
"Jesus," Julie cried, and she got up and ran from the lounge.
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Mayer said.
"I'll go," Mr. Mayer said, but he didn't move.
I glanced at John Junior. He was sixteen and heartbreaking, with wavy brown hair and gray eyes–Mike's hair and eyes–and the exact body Mike had had six years earlier, muscular but still narrow-waisted. I saw John and his friends at the Union sometimes, asking people with IDs to buy them beer at the Rat.
"How are you, John?" I said now.
"Fine." His voice was husky–I thought he was trying not to cry.
"How's the job?"
"OK. Stop by sometime, I'll scoop you a free one."
"Maybe I will."
The weekend before the accident he'd been hired at an ice cream parlor on State Street. I was at the Mayers' when he came in with the news, and quick as anything Mike said, "Perfect, bring me home a pint of butter pecan every night or I'll have your ass." Without missing a beat John said, "If you eat a pint of butter pecan every night no one'll have your ass," and Mike loved that–he told everyone about it for days afterward.
I looked at Mr. Mayer: at his tanned, balding head, at his hazel eyes filmy behind thick glasses. He'd left his coat and tie at home, but he still wore his pressed white shirt, his navy trousers, and his shiny black lace-ups. The orange couch he sat on was too low for him, and as he shifted, swinging his knees from left to right and bringing his arms closer to his body, I was suddenly certain he was about to make a pronouncement.
I stood up. He'd become ministerial in his speech since the accident, one day delivering sermons about hope and patience and the next lecturing us on the spinal cord and its function. I liked him, but I couldn't listen–it made me too jittery.
"I guess I better go," I said.
The three of them said goodbye, and I felt them watch me as I left the lounge. I wondered how long they'd sit there before they went home.
At the elevators I found Julie, her arms crossed over her chest: her cheeks were flushed, her eyes brimming with tears. She pushed her hair away from her face. "I don't want to hear it, Carrie, OK?"
I was taken aback. "I wasn't going to say anything."
"My mother's an idiot. I can't believe I never figured that out until I was nineteen."
"Better late than never."
She half smiled but then quickly shook her head, as if she didn't want to be derailed. "Do you know what she was doing when I got home this afternoon? Ironing tablecloths. Do you know when the last time we used a tablecloth was? Christmas! Do you know when the next time will be? Thanksgiving!"
"She has to do something," I said.
"Then why doesn't she do something about Mike?" Julie cried. Then she burst into tears. "Because there's nothing to do," she sobbed. "There's nothing to do."
I put my arms around her and pulled her close. Why hadn't I cried? Why couldn't I? I felt stony. I ran a hand down her hair and felt her shoulder blades, how bony and angular they were.
She palmed her face, wiped her hand on her skirt, then looked up at me. "Why couldn't it have been Rooster?" she whispered fiercely.
As if it had to have been someone: I'd thought the same horrible thing. "I don't know," I said to her. "I really don't."
Rooster was still in the lobby when I got there, standing near the exit, talking to the same blond nurse. Her hair was down now, a sweep of pale waves, and she carried a shoulder bag. After a moment he looked up and saw me, then motioned for me to join them.
"Have you guys actually met?" he said. "Carrie, this is Joan. She's from Oconomowoc, believe it or not."
I nodded: his parents were both from Oconomowoc; it was where he went for holidays.
"You know who Carrie is."
Joan smiled at me. She was taller than I'd realized, nearly six feet, with clear, fair skin and extraordinary pale blue eyes. "I'm sure sorry about Mike," she said.
"It's way too soon to give up hope, though."
"Exactly," Rooster said.
Joan headed for the exit, and I watched Rooster watching her, his eyes on her even once she was out the door and heading into the parking lot. "Nice," he said at last.
"Nice what?" I was used to his ways. Nice legs. Nice ass.
He put his hand on my shoulder, and after a moment we started toward the door together. It was muggy and hot outside, the sky a glaring white. Heat blew toward us from the parking lot, thick and exhaust-tinged.
"Let's go for a drink."
I glanced up and found him watching me closely, face flushed, red hair damp at the hairline. I looked away. "I don't really feel like it."
He stopped walking and put his hands on his hips. "Come on, Carrie, be a friend for once, OK? One beer, I promise. We'll go somewhere quiet."
"For once? Why did you say for once?" My eyes burned a little, and I thought it would be incredible if this were what finally made me cry.
"I didn't mean it like that."
"How did you mean it?"
He rolled his eyes. An impatient look came over his face, and he stared out at the sea of cars baking in the late sun. Finally he looked back at me. "I didn't mean it at all, OK?"
I sighed. Rooster always got his way eventually, through sheer force of will. I could go on resisting, but what was the point? "All right," I said, "one beer."
We drove separately, then met up in front of the University Bookstore. While we were standing there trying to decide where to go, we ran into Stu, who talked us into the Union terrace. Rooster stood in line for beer while Stu and I got a table. Lake Mendota was a rippled silver, like a vast piece of silk spread out but not yet smoothed. I remembered the morning, how both lakes had disappointed me, and I decided they'd been tainted: by my failure to visit Mike the day before.
"Earth to Carrie," Stu said.
Rooster had arrived with the beer. I reached for my mug and took a sip. "Sorry."
Stu leaned forward. "How are you doing?"
I lifted my hand off the table and rocked it back and forth.
"And the Mayers?"
What People are Saying About This
Ann Packer’s first novel has all the weight of reality, tooled with a jeweler’s precision. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier is a poignant and painstakingly rendered account of a woman in flight from catastrophe, in search of herself.
Reading Group Guide
“Packer knows just how to make a story build: the novel reveals a sure sense of pace and pitch, a brilliant ear for character and a searching emotional generosity.” —The New York Times Book Review
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Ann Packer’s critically acclaimed and bestselling debut novel. Centering on one young woman’s conflict between her commitment to the people in her life and her duty to be true to herself, this absorbing story challenges us to look inward and to ask discomfiting questions about our relationships, our priorities, and our selflessness for which there are neither easy nor definitive answers.
1. Why is Carrie unable to cry until Mike awakes from the coma [p. 9, 65]?
2. What effect does Rooster have on Carrie’s emotional turmoil during Part One? Is Rooster fair in his attack on Carrie outside the library [p. 85-87]?
3. When Carrie and Mike see the bride and groom on TV in the hospital, Carrie thinks: “If his next words were Let’s get a minister over here and get married tomorrow, I would say yes” [p. 101]. What feelings are driving her at this point? What might have happened to Carrie and Mike if Mike had persisted in getting married after the accident?
4. What does Mike mean when he says: “It was like we were already married—we’d gone too far” [p. 413]? What went wrong or changed in Carrie’s and Mike’s relationship? Did Carrie or Mike change, or did their circumstances change, or both?
5. Carrie tells the reader: “For him [Mike], it was all about the future. For me, the past” [p. 77]. How does Carrie’s past inform her present? What do each of the three memories of her father mean for Carrie [p. 31]? What Carrie does not remember about her father is “nearly infinite. . . . A whole book of things, an entire encyclopedia, a volume that I tried and tried to fill at the Mayers’” [p. 31]. Might Carrie have stayed with Mike and the Mayers for longer than she would have because she was trying to fill the void left by her father? What influence does Carrie’s memory of her father have on her decision to leave Madison—and then, ultimately, to return? By returning, is Carrie escaping her father’s legacy?
6. When she leaves Madison, Carrie seems to believe that people are defined by the actions or perceptions of other people. She says: “Because we were caretakers of each other’s habits and expressions, weren’t we, witnesses who didn’t just see but who gave existence?” [p. 142]. Remembering Kilroy’s touch, she says, “How extraordinary . . . that someone could touch you and make you into something” [p. 367]. Carrie’s mother asserts that “people aren’t defined by what they do so much as they define what they do” [p. 354]. Are people defined by what they do, or by how others perceive them, or by neither? Does Carrie’s opinion on this topic change by the novel’s end?
7. How does Mike’s family react to his accident? How do his friends react? What about Carrie’s outward behavior in reaction to Mike’s tragedy makes her behavior so surprising to their families and friends? Are there typical or expected ways people react to tragedies like this? What do deviations from this expected behavior signify?
8. Carrie explains her love for sewing: “It was the inexorability of it that appealed to me, how a length of fabric became a group of cut-out pieces that gradually took on the shape of a garment” [p. 12]. How is the process of sewing, and Carrie’s own projects with expensive silk fabrics, a metaphor for Carrie’s emotional evolution? Does playing pool have a similar meaning for Kilroy?
9. Is it Jamie’s call that propels Carrie to finally return home, or is some other event the catalyst for her return? Does guilt or obligation play a role in Carrie’s decision to stay in Wisconsin? Is she trying to prove something to herself or to others? Is she acting truly selflessly? Is she settling, giving up, or being true to herself?
10. Could Carrie properly be called a heroine? What would have been the heroic path for her to take?
11. Carrie poses the question: “How much do we owe the people we love?” [p. 147] When she leaves Madison, she seems to view the answer as an all-or-nothing proposition: “What I had discovered was that I couldn’t give up my life for Mike—that’s how I saw it at the time, that’s the choice I thought I had to make. And because I couldn’t give up everything, I also thought I couldn’t give up anything” [p. 147]. Does Carrie see her answer differently at the end of the novel? What does Carrie give up for Mike? Did she need Kilroy in order to have something other than herself to give up for Mike? What does Kilroy owe his parents? Can love be separate from obligation? How might Jamie’s or Rooster’s or Kilroy’s definition of love differ from Carrie’s definition?
12. How do the tones and styles of Part One and Part Three reflect Carrie’s different state of mind before her time in New York City and afterward?
13. What is Carrie looking for in a relationship? What characteristics of Kilroy attract Carrie that were or are absent in Mike?
14. Is Carrie’s resolution of her relationship with Kilroy satisfying? By “being there” in Carrie’s life, what does Kilroy teach Carrie about herself? What does Lane teach Carrie about herself?
15. Is the resolution to the mystery surrounding Kilroy satisfying? Is “the tragedy named Mike” different for Carrie than for Kilroy [p. 400]?
16. Why are the minor characters of Harvey (Mike’s new roommate in the hospital) and Harvey’s wife [pp. 220–221] so significant to the novel’s themes of love, obligation, and choices?
17. Mike and Rooster theorize about the irony in names such as the dentist, Dr. Richard Moler, or the orthopedist, Dr. Bonebrake [p. 20]. Do the names in the novel—Carrie Bell, Kilroy, Rooster—have any ironic meaning?
18. While Mike literally dives from Clausen’s Pier, who figuratively dives from Clausen’s Pier? What metaphoric images does the title conjure up for the reader before and after reading the novel?
19. Envision an inverted version of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier written from Mike’s point of view in which Carrie had been the one to have had the accident. How might their lives have played out differently? What does this exercise reveal about their relationship and Carrie’s character?
A conversation with Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier
Q: In The Dive From Clausen's Pier your 23-year-old heroine, Carrie Bell, is torn between whether to stay or go when her fiance? becomes quadriplegic after a terrible accident. It is a coming-of-age story that draws us in immediately to a complex web of moral dilemmas. What made you tackle this tragic subject?
A: That's a hard question, because it assumes an awareness of why one writes what one writes, and a measure of control over one's subjects that I don't think can really exist. I know HOW I began to write The Dive From Clausen's Pier; that is, I can locate the earliest retrievable moment in the process, which was a phrase I jotted down in my notebook, along the lines of "a woman whose boyfriend is injured in maybe a hunting accident." Looking back, I can see that I was intrigued by the ambiguities of the situation: he's her boyfriend, not her husband; he's injured, not killed. I imagine I was wondering what I'd do if I were this woman, how I'd find a way to live with and understand the choices I'd make.
Getting back to the why, though: I think that's more complex and perhaps not fully answerable. One of the characters in the book actually speculates about this, or something like it. An aspiring poet, she says, "I think the family IS the artist. Just like the sky is, or all the books you've ever read." I suppose I think, similarly, that a novel--whether "art" or not--is formed because of and by all that has formed its writer: her family, the sky, all the books she's ever read. In other words, more than can be named. In the case of me and The Dive from Clausen's Pier, I think the family part played a prominent role in the formation of at least one aspect of the book: when I was ten years old, my father had a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body, which is similar to what happens to Mike in the novel. I say this played a prominent role, and yet it's also the case that I wasn't thinking about the parallel as I wrote.
Q: So you drew on first-hand experiences to portray the worlds of intensive care and rehab?
A: Seeing my father in the hospital and then watching him work to regain function and independence were certainly indelible experiences, but I didn't so much actively draw on them for the book as realize later that they had helped propel me toward my subject. When it came to the medical aspects of the novel, I did a lot of research: into spinal cord function, the ramifications of injury, the process of rehabilitation.
Q: What about the picture you paint of Mike after he's home from the hospital? Did you do research there, too? Are there any other parallels to your father's experience?
A: I researched the practical side of living with a spinal cord injury, but not the emotional side; it was my job as a novelist to imagine that. As for further parallels to my father's experience, I suppose the answer is yes, in that Mike struggles with depression. My father did, too, and in fact he ultimately committed suicide.
Q: So in a sense the novel turns things around: Carrie, the healthy person, struggles over whether to leave Mike, the disabled one; whereas in your life the disabled person left the healthy one.
A: That's interesting. I suppose in a way all fiction revises life, whether to make it happier or sadder or funnier or stranger or tidier or messier--whatever the writer wants or needs.
Q: The novel is set in Madison, Wisconsin, a town that you seem to know intimately. Tell us about your relationship to that place.
A: I lived in Madison for a couple of years, during which time I wrote the phrase in my notebook that I was talking about earlier. I started the writing about six months after I moved away, and I suppose Madison became the setting both because the story had begun to percolate there and also because I was now living in France, and Madison was my most recent American place. Living elsewhere while I was writing the book had its moments of frustration--what was the name of that street, again?--but in certain ways it was also very freeing, because it allowed me to ignore or forget aspects of the city that did not serve my fictive purposes, and to invent others that did. When I think of Madison now, I'm struck by how memories of my life there are intermixed with moments from the book, or even with passages I wrote that I ended up cutting. And because it's been several years since I've been back, the life I imagined there for Carrie and her co-characters is often more vivid to me than the life I lived there--even though, of course, it was my experience that provided the foundation for theirs.
Q: Later, the action moves to New York, a city that you also seem to know quite well -- its geography, its artists who "want to be something." One senses that you must have fallen in love there once -- or at least fallen in love with the city. Could that be right?
A: I lived in New York for the five years following my graduation from college, and I was, of course, awestruck by it. Like most people in their early twenties, I spent my time immersed in the possibilities of who I might become, and New York offered a thrilling--and sometimes terrifying--variety of answers. I loved it, certainly, and still do, but it's also interesting to me that I didn't start writing until after I'd left. I'd been gone about four years when I started The Dive From Clausen's Pier, but given Carrie's age and the age I was when I lived in New York, it was probably inevitable that I would use it in the novel, both as a setting and as a symbol.
Q: At the beginning of the novel, Carrie lives a life in which friendship and loyalty are paramount, and yet her sense of herself is shattered when she runs from commitment. You explore the question of whether we are "bad" or just "who we have always been" when we make decisions that hurt other people. Tell us more about that.
A: When I set out to write the book I wasn't conscious of wanting to explore this, but as I look back I can see that one of my projects was to investigate alternatives to the idea that life can be divided into right and wrong. An analog to this idea--to the idea that there ARE alternatives -- would be that every act has a multiplicity of meanings, not just from affected person to affected person, but also from one aspect of a given person to another aspect of that same person. One thing that happens to Carrie in the novel is that she moves from a rather severely moralistic position to a position of curiosity and perhaps even acceptance.
Q: Carrie's most constant coping mechanism for dealing with her pain -- guilt, anger, desire to flee -- is to turn to sewing as an occupation. How did you come upon something as both mundane and original as that to express so much emotion? Can you talk about what sewing represents in the book?
A: It's funny, there are things I can retrieve from the writing process and things that I can't. I really don't remember how I arrived at sewing for Carrie, though I know that once I sat her down at her sewing machine I felt (rather than decided) that sewing would become an important activity and theme. As for what it represents, I think that changes during the course of the novel. At first it's very much about escape from the world outside her apartment, where Mike is so gravely injured, and where the people in her life have expectations and assumptions that she doesn't quite know how to deal with. Of course, she has many of these herself, and the sewing offers some mental respite, too. Later, she sews toward the possibility of self-invention, self-transformation, and I think by the end she is using it as a way to take care of herself financially and, in a sense, psychologically--she can support herself, and she can take her aesthetic sense and make something with it that will reflect an internal process of understanding and imagination.
Q: The book is about opposites -- the quiet familiarity of leafy Madison versus the buzz and excitement of New York; caring for both high school sweetheart Mike and urbane, cynical Kilroy, etc. Talk about how one person can be drawn in such different directions.
A: I think we are always imagining alternatives for ourselves, especially when we are young. That we are who we are, or have become who we have become, can seem like an accident of timing at one moment and completely inevitable at another. Carrie faces the possibility of an alternative self in a very real and immediate sense, but the opposites she's pulled toward strike me as real-life manifestations of choices, or possibilities, that are inherent in us all the time. And it's probably the case that if the choices aren't opposite, the choice itself isn't so difficult, or so interesting.
Q: You are a mother of two children in her early forties, living in northern California. The world of Carrie seems many miles away. What made you write about this group of friends and post-college life right now? Did you start the novel when you were younger and then come back to it?
A: I think the key to this lies in the phrase "right now." The present moment of the book's creation is actually about a decade long. I did start the novel when I was younger--considerably younger--but I didn't so much come back to it as never leave it. It was a very slow process with some fairly long breaks during pregnancy and my children's early infancies, but I've been with it--and it's been with me--all along.
Q: Tell us about the short story collection you published eight years ago with Chronicle Books in San Francisco.
A: The book is called Mendocino and Other Stories, and it consists of the short stories I wrote in graduate school and after, stories that cohered around certain themes--the navigation of relationships, the aftereffects of loss. It was great fun, after years of sending the stories to magazines and journals all over the country, to see them all together in a single book, and to realize that they had a book-like feeling of belonging together.
Q: Who have been your mentors in writing? Who has encouraged you to write?
A: I had some wonderful teachers in graduate school, but never a mentor. I think I've been most encouraged by my readers--whether teachers, editors, fellow writers, family members, friends, even strangers: by anyone who has responded to something I've written.
Q: What's next for you as a writer? Is there a way in which this book prepares you for the next one?
A: I'm guessing that each novel--and I've certainly found this to be the case with short stories--will present its own set of challenges and seemingly unsolvable problems along with moments of pleasure and discovery. I hope this is the case, because it's the whole package that makes writing interesting to me. I've only written one novel so I can't say for sure, but I suspect that most of what you learn from writing a book is how to write THAT book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved reading all the reviews for this book because it elicits such strong opinions from people. My mom recommended this book to me not because she absolutely loved it but because she wanted someone to discuss it with. Now THAT makes it a worthy book--not whether you loved the main character or whether it ends nice and neatly. Read Nicholas Sparks if you want that kind of story. Although I didn't like Carrie or agree with half of her decisions (she made me so mad sometimes and don't even get me started on Kilroy), I still enjoyed the book. This is a well-written novel that shows how messy life really is, how some people deal with tragedy, and how people are capable of doing very hurtful things.
This novel deals with young love, growth, dreams and harsh realities of spinal cord injury. When the story ends you want to read more.
I couldn't put this book down. The emotion was very real, very moving. The characters were very clearly drawn. A book I will not forget.
This was an excellent book by Ann Packer. Carrie was placed in a difficult situation after Mike's accident as to whether to stay or go and become her own person. Mike's life and that of those close to him changed dramatically that day at Clausen's Pier. Life as known by them before that fateful day would never return. Difficult decisions had to be made. But I don't suppose many of us would have had the nerve to just walk away and go so far away with little contact with her family and friends for so many months. And then later to walk away from her new life in NYC -- each time she left so many lives were left in turmoil. How could she do it?
It was a good book..but left a lot unfinished.
I ended up really really enjoying this book! The summary actually didn't sound too great when I first picked it up, but I ended up loving it. It is a sweet and complex tale.
I read this book in two days, I couldn't put it down, it was so HONEST. Its one of those books where after you finish you're sad you're done and you feel full.
'The Dive From Clausen's Pier' starts off slow but gets rocking. There are complicated issues discussed in this book, as well as relationships and questions about obligations and expectations vs. doing whats right for you. Carrie, the main character, must go through all she does in the book to be on her way to disover who she is. The book was great and it was a wonderful discussion with my book group which made me like it even more when I was able to see things in book differently and consider different aspects of Carrie's life. The book is great, but I do not recommend the Lifetime movie...it leaves out essential aspects of the book, such as the importance of sewing in Carrie's life, a thread throughout the book and symbolic of her emotional development. The movie is alot different, if I saw the movie first I wouldnt have wanted to read the book and that would be an injustice! The book is good, check it out!
This was the most painfully irritating, frustrating, gut wrenching book i have EVER forced myself to read. I love to read and I wanted to give this a chance, due to all of the critical praise etc.... never ever in my entire life of reading have i hated a main character as i hate carrie bell. what a selfish brat... i am 22, close to carrie's 23, and i could not relate at all. it wasn't that i couldn't empathize with her frustrations, it was just how heartless and cold, and CRUEL she was. i also hated her second love interest. he was almost as bad as her, but she was by far the worst, the most terrible... and unfortunately most central, character. ugh, there were times when my blood was boiling, i didn't want to read on but did, for lack of other reading options and the hope that it would somehow get better. please people, do yourself a favor, i beg of you, pass over this dull, aggravating, hellacious book. it is agony inducing.
This is a book that touched me so deeply that it has, in some small way, permanently changed me, changed the way I look at things, at my own past relationships, at my own perspective on my present life, on my expectations for the future. It helped me look at my own experiences of the past in a whole new way. I am dumbfounded that this is Ann Packer's first novel. Within minutes of finishing the book, I vowed to myself to read anything she ever writes again. Her insight into human nature and her ability to express the complexity of the human condition is truly extraordinary. The irony of it is that I found the first 100 pages or so of the book to be agonizingly depressing and kept wondering to myself why I didn't just toss it aside and give it up. I rarely find it worthwhile to continue reading a book that doesn't hook me in the first 50 pages, but I'm glad I did this time. This is truly a great book.
I kinda hated this book, but also couldn't stop reading. The author has a gift for words, but at the same time I wanted to jump through the pages and throttle the protagonist, who acts a lot younger at times than she has any right too. Then central idea of the story, how much do you owe people, is an interesting idea that ultimately the author doesn't really explore enough. In fact I think she does a better job of this when it comes to the abandoned best friend than the abandoned injured boyfriend.It's hard to talk about this one much without spoiling it. The protagonist's attraction to the incredibly twee Kilroy is understandable at first. He has the unbearable sophomoric pretention that young people are prone to mistake for wisdom. Unfortunately, as you learn more about him -- like how old he actually is -- it seems rather amazing that the protagonist (and possibly the author) is blind to what this says about him. The book ends with a bit of a thud, and it's really disappointing that with a promising start you end up with a main character to whom things just happen, instead of one who really makes things happen for herself.
I liked the way this writer handled a tricky dilemma. How do you choose between doing what is expected of you and what you want to do? How do you even know what you really want?
Carrie's story was hard to read--her life isn't written as a magnificent makeover story where all her dreams come true: she flees tragedy when others would stick it out and she buries herself in denial when she should be facing her problems. So though it's not a pretty story, it's an honest one.Carrie's self-doubt and general lack of direction was comforting; her blatant errors in judgment are hard to witness, but Packer could not have created a more realistic protagonist if she had provided a life-size model. Carrie is flawed, yes; but she is also compelling. We see how much potential she has, that she has held herself back for so many people (maybe even for Madison itself), and we see her baby steps of progression--I couldn't tear myself away from the pages, because I so desperately wanted her to succeed.The ending stayed with me for several days; I couldn't help but wish that Carrie had solved all her problems with a snap of her fingers, but I do like that her future was left open to interpretation: does she devote her life to Madison and the people there, or does she find her future elsewhere? I have my suspicions, but Packer respects her readers enough to let them decide for themselves.
Easy reading. The girl fustrated me with all her possibilities that she doens't explore. Leaves her quad accident boyfriend to go to NY, and finds another guy who is mysterious, older, etc, then she goes back home. Sort of unfinished ending at times.
I loved this book. The reader can almost feel everything that Carrie is going through. I loved all the details in the story - her love for sewing, her uncertainty for Mike, both before and after his accident. Moreover, I loved that the book did not end as a neat little package - do they rekindle their love or do they stay only friends? Can they move past this horrible place they have been at emotionally?
When her fiance dives from Clausen's pier & breaks his neck, the lives of everyone around them are changed forever. This engrossing story of families in crises is told from the POV of the girl, Carrie, who had expected her life to follow the normal sequence of small-town wife & mother. After the accident, her fiance gallantly offers to break the engagement. She gallantly refuses & continues with her wedding plans. But the accident has changed more than their physical selves. Carrie, forced to look at the reality of the situation discovers aspects of herself that she had not realized. How the 2 lovers & their families face & adjust to a tragedy is a compelling story not easily forgotten.
Really a wonderful read - light but insightful. Packer is a wonderful author - note how she makes a complicated subject ealisy understood and explained. I loved the New York "scene" and her fabric encounters.
This book is beautifully written, but I found it ultimately disappointing. It started off very well, with the descriptions of Carrie's feeling of being trapped in the life that was expected of her, and her budding determination to break her engagement and find her own life. Once her fiance takes that fateful dive on Memorial Day, it all starts to slip away. I think that the description of Mike's injury, treatment, and Carrie's guilt and resistance to others expectations is done well. However, when Carrie runs off to New York, she appears to want to become a completely different person, not just to explore her dreams. The descriptions of her love affair with fabric and fashion design are lovely. The message here seems to be that finding one's own life and purpose should be the goal. Great. Then, the message seems to be that such dreams are futile and that ultimately guilt and obligation will most likely win the day. A very disappointing end. Such a shame.
In Ann Packer's The Dive From Clausen's Pier, the central character has to quietly endure an upheaval of what was once a pleasant life after a tragic acccident alters the relationship she has with her high school sweetheart. She comes to feel isolated in her feelings that conflict with those of people around her who are ever watchful as to how she should be accommodating a situation she is beginning to sense is hopeless. Written in a staightforward manner, The Dive From Clausen's Pier maintains an attractive tone in its matter-of-fact descriptions of family life in modern-day Wisconsin. Just enough information is given about its characters for the reader to feel comfortable with them, and more would have been welcome. The story switches gears when it moves from Wisconsin to New York City. The storytelling then becomes forced, and small incidences that occur from that point on in the story read like a travel guide by someone who knows very little of what the Big Apple is about. The novel had its roots in suburban Wisconsin life, and it should have stayed there. This all makes the first half of the book compelling and the second half merely filler. This book could be used at the high school level (in snippets, cautiously, as there is strong adult content in its second half) as an English class exercise to study the scenario of alienation and isolation of a main character in a novel setting.
A great story set in the great Madison, Wisconsin! It is a story of love and loss. Guilt and recovery. This book is a winner!
I don't want to sound like the blurb. But...how much do we owe the people who love us? Where do we draw the line between sacrifice and selfishness? These are the entangling issues that baffled Carrie Bell, our protagonist in Ann Packer's debut novel The Dive from the Clausen's Pier.Carrie Bell was born and bred in Wisconsin in all her 23 years. Life seemed to have treated her well-blessed her with her high school sweetheart Mike, to whom she had engaged. To her family and many of her friends in town, what was deemed as the perfect relationship was prone to some low-lying tension, at least to Carrie. Her love for Mike had waned and the love spell was no longer there. While Carrie contemplated at the most possible euphemistic way to presage her fiancé the end of their relationship, Mike dived off from Clausen's Pier into the shallows and broke his neck on Memorial Day holiday. She decided to stay and looked after Mike out of guilt and obligation though she was on the verge of leaving Wisconsin. At the end of summer, Carrie was seized with a surge of excitement and left for New York in search of the life she riveted.This is the point where the flaw comes in. I understand how much Carrie was going through-with the pressure, the expectation (from both her family and Mike's parents), the fed-up suffocating life that she tired of. But why would she all a sudden throw herself into the open arms of Kilroy, who lived in midtown New York? Wouldn't that make her more guilty? This just didn't make sense to me and was not at all realistic (maybe it was reasonable by soap opera standard). The most consternated was yet to come when she threw herself into an affair with this older man. I knew she was seized with a pang of regret, guilt, fear, and indecisiveness. But what was the point of such concupiscence? Was she using this man to embark on a fashion design career? Beat me. Even after she left home, she deliberately allowed others make decisions for her-it really struck me that Carrie could not follow her heart and take her stand.The prose is dazzling and eloquent in spite of the many flaws (of the plot) that blemishes the book. This flaw is caused by the underdevelopment of Carrie Bell's character. She somehow left the readers hanging. If I have to rate this book on the sole basis of writing, it will be at least 4 stars. The unrealistic scenes and unreasonable (questionable) turns inevitably ruin the rating. Honestly, when I got to the point where Carrie made the jaunt to New York and hooked up with the older man, I just skimmed through the rest of the book for the ending (or her comeuppance). I didn't care or how she reached the end because the book was a total letdown. It was especially disappointing after all the hype and rave of the book that welled up such high anticipation and all I got was some soap-opera-like type of fluff.
We’ve all been there. We want out an we don’t know how to say it. We sit at the dinner table and try to smile, but in our gut we know we’d rather be somewhere else. Imagine that feeling or boredom, of not being in the right place, and magnify it. That’s what Carrie Bell, the protagonist of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is living. She’s 23 years old and has spent a third of her life in a relationship to Mike, to whom she’s now engaged. She’s outgrown their romance, is bored, and is longing to walk away from their small town life, when Mike victim of a serious accident and becomes paralyzed. From there, Carrie makes a choice to leave and you’ll either love or hate her. Can she justify her decision? This book unfolds slowly at all stages, and often the reader is left begging for some action on Carrie’s part to end or change her endless worrying. After the initial accident, the story drags on as we explore Carrie’s pain and confusion, and Packer runs over the same points ad nauseam, as thought she doesn’t expect the reader to understand Carrie’s suffering, which is actually quite shallow. Carrie in general, is an extremely unlikable protagonist. After solving her problem of initial unhappiness and leaving, she still cannot find ways to live the life she wants, even though she is unencumbered. Here's where my opinion (and some slight spoilers) comes in: the entire second half of the book is hopelessly unrealistic. Carrie gains no understanding of how selfish she has been in leaving Mike, and continues to disappoint other characters. The only redeeming aspect of Carrie as a character was that she finally realized the depth of her self-centeredness at the end of the novel. She apologizes, but makes no moves to change her life. Instead she slinks back into her original frame of mind: bored and burdened, leaving the reader to wonder why they cared in the first place.
It makes you think and feel.
This book went on & on about a whole lot of nothing. It felt like it was never going to end.