We recently read Susan Casey’s The Wave in the Oceans Book Group I attend in Olympia. As with most of our book picks, it’s gloom, leavened occasionally by doom. Brace yourselves folks: the oceans are warming up. Yup, it’s getting toasty on here. Seventy percent of the planet is a roiling cesspool of trash archipelagos and behemoth, wrathful waves, preparing to wash 3 billion coastal inhabitants to their – our – watery graves.
Gossipy prose lies cheek by jowl with the scientific as Casey interviews oceanographers, climatologists and volcanologists in search of answers to why our waters are behaving violently and unpredictably. But wait, there’s a flip side to all this soaking-wet chaos. Where there are waves, there are wave riders, and lucky for us, Casey is hot on their hunky trail, observing their obsession and translating it into her hopping literary style.
These are the men (yes, mostly men) who travel from Hawaii’s Pipeline to Tahiti’s P’eahu, from Monterey to Mexico and back again, in search of the heaviest and highest swells. These treks sometimes occur all within the same few mind-addling, sleepless days. The question that drives the extreme surfer portion of Casey’s book is: “Who drops in on nature’s biggest tantrums for fun? What drives him?” She spends months on the world’s most dramatic beaches with Laird Hamilton and his cadre of seemingly superhuman athletes, all of whom live to risk it all for the next adrenaline rush.
The Wave moves along briskly, thanks to Casey’s science writer meets celebrity reporter style (she is the editor-in-chief of O the Oprah Magazine). However, my friend (and a member of four book groups) Colleen and I agreed that she loses steam two-thirds of the way through. In my experience, this seventh-inning sag is the curse of fiction and non-fiction alike. Let’s face it, the world would be a different place, or at least a shorter place, if Wuthering Heights ended 150 pages sooner.
Casey practices up close and personal journalism, literally moving in with her subjects and becoming obsessed by their obsessions. She falls willingly into love and peril with them as she did in The Devil’s Teeth, her book on the biologists who study white sharks on California’s Farallon Islands. Fans of Susan Casey are often also fans of Mary Roach, another science writer whose works include Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void and Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.