The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer

Carrie Bell is a small town girl from Wisconsin who loves to sew and is engaged to her high school sweetheart Mike Mayer. The couple has been having their issues, and though Mike is still fully committed to the relationship, Carrie is having plenty of doubts about whether she will be able to marry Mike. This is the state of their relationship on the fateful day at Clausen’s Pier when Mike takes a dive and is paralyzed from the neck down. Carrie is oddly detached from Mike’s situation, and eventually breaks off their engagement and flees to New York to live with a friend from high school.  There, she meets and begins a relationship with an enigmatic stranger.

I started out loving this book. The premise is fascinating. Its also one so interesting and potentially divisive to ponder, among friends and even with yourself.  What do you do if someone that you love is altered for the rest of their life? Do you have an obligation to stay with them? The novel is written in the first person, so  there is of course an obvious bias toward the main character. Packer does such a good job of showing how conflicted Carrie is by the decision to leave her paralyzed boyfriend that you get a very balanced view of all the different points of view as Carrie struggles with her decision,  as well as the how her actions are viewed by her friends and family.

There is something about the accessibility of Ann Packer’s writing that I love. Her simplicity of descriptions makes me feel as if I am right there with the character in the story. Her characters are so consistent that the things they do don’t come as a surprise-it’s who they are- and that’s a great thing that they are so clear. However she is so detailed, I started to get a little lost in all the minutiae of their lives. And by the end, I was more than a little bored. I think this was also exacerbated by that fact that I read one of her short stories, which left me cold. Her characterization is wonderful, but there is a tendency toward repetition which can be hard to take in so much detail. But this is a solid first novel and I would love to read more of her work to see how it changes (or doesn’t change) over time.

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