Publisher: Ballantine Books (ballantinebooks.com)
Location: Random House, Inc, NY
Cover: Carlos Beltran, Jamie Warren
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 2/10/2011
Summary: A mysterious island and echoes of Homer with wrecked ships, siren calls, and altered lives.
Would it be an exaggeration to say that throughout recorded history the greatest challenge humankind has faced has been overcoming the arrogant, egocentric myopia of personal nightmares projected onto the unfolding tapestry of everyday life? A theme for a different time obviously. But Jack Rogan’s THE OCEAN DARK scrapes off the sediment from the question and up pops the disasters of environmental pollution, global warming, over-crowding-the usual litany of nightmares we now call human generated eco-potential-disasters. What is unusual about this novel however is that the story almost forces the reader to conjure a nightmare to explain the mechanics of a potential eco-biological nightmare. It is a refreshing departure from the usual litany of potential disasters pulled from news headlines.
In THE OCEAN DARK, Rogan achieves a level of story-telling so far beyond the made-for-TV disaster movie or the lowest-common-denominator news headline that there is really no “story-like” comparison possible. The book, in short, is a brilliant piece of creative and expository work.
Tori Anderson, the heroine of THE OCEAN DARK, is a woman with a past, attempting to escape into a future. She is surrounded by a group of men who also have histories buffeted by the bathos of life and attempting to maintain a steady course. But unlike Tori, the men, brothers Gabe and Miguel Rios, are attempting to hold the future at bay, to keep the status quo as the status quo. Tori fails. The Rios brothers fail. Their plans are obliterated by an onrush of events stemming from a seemingly minor step taken in pursuit of securing their respective futures.
Gabe Rios is the captain of the Antoinette, a cargo skip carrying one-hundred and eighty tractor-trailer size containers across the waters of the Caribbean. Rios and his brother are willing pawns in the illegal activities of the shipping company for which they work. Gun smuggling, drugs–the usual. In an effort to rendezvous with a missing ship, the Mariposa, transporting a cargo of weapons, Captain Rios steers the Antoinette closer and closer to a mysterious and uncharted island in search of the cargo he is supposed to pickup. It is an ill-fated decision on the part of the Captain.
We get the impression that Gabe Rios is a conscientious, moral man who, because of misguided loyalty and no small measure of self-absorption, sleep-walks into a disaster that turns his life up-side-down. But if this is so of Captain Rios, it constitutes the very foundation of Tori Anderson’s existence.
The heroine is also conscientious and moral. But she is so absorbed in escaping the past to build a future that she simply ignores the present. She is vaguely aware of the illicit goings-ons of the company for which she works and the part the Rios brothers have in the activity. But this is her first time aboard the company’s ship. Having worked simply as a secretary of sorts, she has been allowed to sign on to the Antoinette crew as a sort of observer, an efficiency expert. Her main concern is that the Rios brothers not view her as a spy for the company. She wants to be just another member of the crew. She wants the brothers to trust her.
As readers, we progress form a point of merely observing the two main characters of the story, Tori and the captain, to a point of grudgingly empathizing. Yes, Captain Rios is enabling dope and gun smugglers, but his primary motivation seems to be a misguided loyalty to his hot-headed brother, Miguel. Yes, Tori is sliding through the cracks and crevices of legitimacy under false identification, attempting to gain self-respect if not the respect of others, her best to escape an abusive husband and ward-off any like-mined morons on the horizon. Characters with character flaws. Even the trials and tribulations of dumb people doing dumb things can evoke empathy. But then of course there are all the analogous implications from the obverse situation: do smart people doing dumb things ever deserve sympathy? What about people just doing things and we don’t know whether they are dumb or smart?
The monsters of THE OCEAN DARK manage to fit into this latter category. Because of loyalty, misguided or otherwise, a commitment to duty, an illicit duty or otherwise, Captain Rio is determined to retrieve the illicit cargo he has been commissioned to transport. Eventually, he and his crew arrive at a place in which they hear the monsters singing.
In Greek mythology, ship wrecks and song is the domain of the Sirens. The seductive beauty of a Siren’s song could lure sailors into a harbor of wrecked vessels. In THE OCEAN DARK, it is not the seductiveness of the monster’s song that lures Captain Rios and his crew. Instead, there is the inner song of greed, stupidity, arrogance-the usual litany of flawed character melodies.
How do you save people from themselves? You call in science and the military.
Alena Boudreau and her grandson David are the scientists called into deal with the mysterious island. They have seen it all before. They too have life baggage weighing upon their motivations and actions.
As with any crisis or disaster story event, the situation gets resolved. Unlike the genre, in the story of THE OCEAN DARK, not all is a happy ending. But there are new beginnings. For Tori, for Captain Rios, a second chance.
THE OCEAN DARK is a superlative work of fiction.