The Water Men Reviewed By James Broderick Ph.D of
James Broderick Ph.D

Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.

By James Broderick Ph.D
Published on August 28, 2011

Author: Adelaide MacKenzie Fuss

ISBN: 978-0983461302

Click Here To Purchase The Water Men

Author: Adelaide MacKenzie Fuss

ISBN: 978-0983461302

If everybody had an ocean

Across the USA

Then everybody’d be surfin’

Like Californ-I-A….

With all due respect to Brian Wilson, lyricist of the Beach Boys’ hit “Surfin’ USA,” I’m not so sure that’s the case. To the non-surfer, the act of surfing can seems puzzling, if not downright nutty. Why anyone would want to perch atop a waxed piece of wood, trying to harness the immense and unpredictable power of the ocean’s currents, totally at the mercy of the waves, is a mystery to many sane landlubbers.

On top of the potential danger inherent in such thrill-seeking, there’s a whole surfing sub-culture that seems Byzantine to the average person, a world apart, a watery brotherhood that speaks a lingua franca of “a-frames,” “ho-dads,” and “steamer lanes.” It’s like a nautical Skull and Bones, intriguing but also a little weird. (Why is it that surfers always flock to the beach during an oncoming hurricane when the rest of us are heading inland to safely watch the storm batter CNN’s corps of drenched correspondents?)

For those who see opportunity where others see peril, the siren call of the sea is strong. Such is the disposition of Shaun McGuire, the 36-year-old retired multi-millionaire at the center of The Water Men, the debut novel of Adelaide MacKenzie Fuss.

McGuire, exhausted by the demands of the business world and feeling unfulfilled by his bank statements, returns to his hometown of Newport Beach, California, to search for the meaning behind an increasingly desultory existence. The novel chronicles about a year of his life, hanging out in a shabby beachfront rental property and feeling torn between becoming a productive member of society and simply (to quote the uber-stoner Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High), “catch some tasty waves.”

The protagonist is assisted – if I might use that verb loosely – in his pursuits by two equally unfocused mid-life crisis refugees. The three of them – without a genuine ambition among them (other than an eccentric, quasi-spiritual impulse to drive around and plant sapling trees around desolate properties) – surf, drink, nap, and while away their days, talking in circles about the ambiguous nature of existence.

Turns out, the answer to the riddle of life is easier, and more attainable, than one might suspect: get a dog. Once Shawn rescues an abandoned dog, his non-monetary fortunes increase. He’s happier, reconnects with his eccentric, high-maintenance mother, and finds out what it is to love. Oh, he gets married too – but it’s the dog he really loves.

For readers who are drawn to sharply plotted novels, with compelling stories and lots of drama, The Water Men is unlikely to slake their literary thirst. Not a lot happens in the book. That’s not to fault the author – she’s taken as her subject the slow-churning of a man’s mind as he surveys the horizon, unsure which way to go. Unless you are going to intertwine the search for life’s meaning with intense action (a la Moby Dick) or a world of perpetual intrigue (a la Hamlet), you’ve doomed your protagonist (and your reader) to a lot of waiting around. Such is the fleeting nature of inspiration.

Yet the author in this case has a good ear for dialogue, and though her characters don’t do much, their conversations ring true. Several exchanges recalled, to my ear, that master of conversational ennui, Paddy Chayefsky. At one point, one of her characters says “We’re like a long, boring, bad, straight to video `B’ movie.” Well, the book is better than that, but after finishing the novel I was left thinking less about what would happen to these drifters and more about what would happen when Adelaide MacKenzie Fuss finds a story that moves as swiftly and dangerously as the surf her characters adore.

Click Here To Purchase The Water Men