THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN’S PIER by Ann Packer
Genre: Fiction and Literature
How Acquired: BookCrossing
Reading Began: November 10, 2004
Completed Reading: November 24, 2004
Overall rating: Eight out of ten
Recommendation to others: The feel of this story reminded me of White Oleander, so I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoyed how that book kept you a little off-center but absorbed from start to finish. Dive is much the same in that regard.
Why I chose to read this book: Yet another review in Entertainment Weekly led me to this book, and once again, they were on target.
Further reading by this author: a collection of short stories called Mendocino and Other Stories
Comments: This story is not so much a coming of age tale as it is one woman’s sudden and unexpected journey to self-discovery. When faced with a tragic experience, and at such a young age as the protagonist, Carrie Bell, it was important to allow her to step away from what was expected of her in order to determine what was right for her. How few of us have this opportunity! The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is beautifully told with simple language and tremendous heart. And I believe I may follow the author anywhere she goes based solely on this story.
I found myself in so many of Carrie’s relationships: the lessening of a best friendship, the pulling away from family, the desire to figure out what one is meant to be and meant to do in life. What captivated me in Dive was the journey and how I found myself wondering what I might do in a similar situation. I often wavered between wholehearted agreement and understanding of Carrie’s behavior and complete surprise at things she was feeling. Having never been in a situation like hers, having never had a loved one suffer a physical or emotional trauma of this magnitude, I can’t honestly say I know how I would respond. The genius of this story is that I had to ride the roller coaster that Carrie rode despite not quite knowing how to relate to her or that I might not act the same in her situations. Ann Packer held me on every page.
There is one complaint to be made in the telling of this story. Packer had a habit of repeating sections of her writing whenever having Carrie remember something; rather than simply refer to what we had just been reading a few chapters earlier, Packer chose to paste the exact text back into the new chapter. This redundancy was irritating and became boring. But this was the only thing that removed me from the story at large. All other times I was riveted and determined to follow Carrie Bell on her journey.
Favorite Characters: The character of Kilroy was fascinating, even while he was entirely irritating in his self-imposed “mystery”. He became somewhat of a non-personality despite playing a pivotal role in the story, yet I was still intrigued by him at the end.
I also wanted much, much more of Simon and Lane, Carrie’s eventual roommates in New York. I felt their stories would have been equally interesting to read.
Memory is strange—part movie, part dream. You can never know if what you remember is the essential thing or something else entirely, a grace note. Chapter 2 (p. 28)
At the time I read this book, I was also struggling with the erosion of a long-term friendship. This first passage really struck me and shed a bit of light on the confusion I was feeling in my own life:
I took a few steps in the other directions but then turned to watch her through the crowd, her small head bobbing along, the ponytail she always wore to work bouncing a little with each step. I loved here: for her loyalty, for her sweet good humor, for the way she held her hair off her neck when she was hot; for the streak of sadness in her and for her belief that one true love could wipe it clean. When we were very young we’d gone everywhere together, even to the bathroom…but now that we were grown—now that we were grown we were going to have to learn a little separation. My mother had once cautioned me against spending so much time with Jamie—against putting all of my eggs in one basket, she said—and at the time I was furious, enraged. Now I thought that she had known something: not about me or Jamie, but about the particular life of a friendship embarked upon in early childhood. Chapter 10 (p. 97)
We headed downtown, toward the dreaded SoHo. Above us huge, gray-rimmed clouds churned across the sky. I thought of how, having grown up here, he had the city in his blood, how the traffic and people and noises must feel as natural to him as their absence would have felt to me. I didn’t think the commotion of New York would ever feel natural to me, not if I lived here for the rest of my life. I hoped it wouldn’t, because I liked how aware of it I was, how going outside was always an event, the running of some kind of gauntlet. Chapter 21 (p. 188)
“Miss Wolf is always telling me that the family is the enemy of the artist,” Lane said. “Well, I think the family is the artist. Just like the sky is, or all the books you’ve ever read.”
I nodded, but I was thinking all at once of Kilroy’s evasions about his family, his past. What was he doing with all those books he read but filling himself, refilling himself—pushing further and further away what had been there before? Chapter 22 (p. 197)
New Yorkers were different. Old or young, crazy or brilliant, plain or gorgeous—they didn’t just walk outside, they made a presentation, they presented themselves. They said, This is who I am, today I’m someone wearing these boots, I’m walking with this look on my face, I’m having this intense and troublesome discussion with this difficult but beloved friend. Chapter 22 (p. 203)
“Haven’t I given you my lecture on soft and hard art before?” I shook my head.
“Well, then.” Kilroy adopted a mock-scholarly tone and said, “All art, whether painting, poetry, music, dance, or anything else, can be divided into two groups, hard and soft, and as pleasing as the soft is, the hard is always superior—it might as well be a rule of nature.” He paused for a moment, and when he starting talking again he’d dropped the posing tone and was speaking faster. “Matisse and Picasso are just two of the most obvious examples. Think about Renoir: totally soft. Monet, Sisley—you could eat them with a spoon. Whereas Vermeer, who puts them to shame, has that incredible rigor. It’s the same with music, with sculpture—I happen to love Beethoven, but he’s romantic, he’s soft, and for excruciating perfection you just can’t beat Bach, because he’s got that hard edge.”
He stared at me with his eyes bright, and there was something in him I’d never seen before, maybe delight. Then all at once it disappeared. Chapter 26 (p. 248)
I thought of what Kilroy had said, long ago in McClanahan’s: See, there it is right there, the pernicious little idea that who you are should determine something as trivial as what you do for a living. Life’s not like that. It’s not that malleable. It’s not that neat.
But what if it was? What if it could be? I was someone for whom it was a thrill to browse among fabrics, to touch them, to play in my mind with color and shape. Why shouldn’t these things move into the center of my life? Why shouldn’t I move them there? Chapter 28 (pp. 258-259)
It seems to me that we learn each other in stages: facts first, meanings later, like explorers who stumble on to bodies of water without knowing at first whether they’ve encountered fog-shrouded rivers or vast oceans. We press on until we know, but as we go something is lost: the new becomes old, and then taken for granted, and then forgotten. With Kilroy I wanted both to speed my way along and also to hold on to each separate moment of revelation. That was what had gone wrong with Mike. I’d known everything about him but had failed to preserve the pleasure of discovery. Instead, I’d absorbed him. It was the same with Jamie. Jamie was my childhood. Chapter 30 (p. 282)