Back cover blurb:
“By the author of “The Dive From Clausen’s Pier,” one of the great Midwestern marine horror novels of the 21st century, comes a novel so chilling that it comes with a wool blanket at the check out counter. Finnigan Mt. Belucci, estranged son of the famed Belucci Fishing Family, just wants to lead a normal, northern Wisconsin life with his wife, Margaret. He wants to get a few chickens, maybe a cow — lord knows enough of wild beasts roam the countryside — and a little shack on Bayfield’s idyllic coast. Everything is blue bonnet’s and walleye fish fries until a heavy fog rolls in February 14th. The Mt. Belucci’s, on a romantic ferry ride, get stopped half-way between Madeline Island and Bayfield. As strange noises begin to emanate from below deck, all semblance of humanity leaves the ferry goers. As the Belucci’s try desperately to escape the madness around them, one thing becomes immediately apparent: they’ll never look at candy hearts the same again.”
Ann Packer made her name in Midwest Gothic, and this is a blissful return to form. Having taken a departure to study French Buddhism, Packer immediately began work on the fevered dreams that would become Swim Back to Me on her return to her native Green Bay. Six years and two dozen drafts later, this little masterpiece dropped on my desk.
It’s a slim volume, and innocuous looking. The faded pastels of the cover betray the transgressive musings inside. Packer’s parallels between the color of prop churned seabed and human carnage are nauseating. The early decline of the Mt. Belucci’s relationship over a misinterpreted text message give Packer the opportunity to rebuild their relationship on the boat ride. However, even though [spoiler alert] Finnigan gets his hand cut off in the second act, forcing Margaret to protect and coddle him back to health through the incredibly rapid onset of infection (one gets the sense that time is distorted on the ferry), we never get the sense that love will retake a hold in their relationship. They rely on the familiar in unfamiliar, and terrifying, surroundings, but, as in King’s 1408, the relationship never re-materializes.
This would be my main criticism of the book: the rekindled relationship Packer sets up never comes about. I may have been misinterpreting the foreshadowing, but it seemed as if it was inevitable, and inevitability is a main theme of the novel; from the sense of foreboding that Margaret gets when she sets foot on the ferry, to the mutated fish that claw their way up the hull and begin disemboweling anything with a heartbeat, to the ultimate sacrifice of Captain Helena using her own body as a replacement prop shaft. It seemed out of sorts to have the most inevitable outcome of the book to go by the wayside, but, again, this could be Packer putting us on edge once again.
In the end, this is a great example of old school horror done with a deft hand. Recommended.
(A Book by its Cover is our new weekly column in which we review a book based solely on the cover, without any other knowledge of what it is about. Any similarities in our review to the book are purely coincidental and proof that we are awesome)