Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Re-visiting Hurrican Ivan in 'Point Clear'

Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf Coast in September 2004, causing billions of dollars in damage from Mobile, Alabama, to Panama City Beach, Florida. My dad's engineering company contracted with FEMA in the clean-up relief efforts, and he was sent to that region to help for several months. We had Thanksgiving in Destin, Florida, that year, and visited several other times. During our trips, we would travel to the areas affected most -- Pensacola being a prominent area hit. The devastation was total, with homes and beaches affected with little relief in sight. Although Hurricane Katrina would strike the very next year, at the time it seemed no hurricane could do more damage.

Jennifer Paddock's novel Point Clear is about Hurricane Ivan and the experience of main character Caroline Berry during the storm. Caroline is a twenty-something writer from Oklahoma who now lives in New York City. Lately her writing career seems a bit murky, and she takes three weeks off to vacation at the beach in Point Clear, Alabama, at the Grand Hotel. Her parents once vacationed there, and she believes that in some way this trip will make her feel closer to her deceased father. However, when she arrives she learns that Hurricane Ivan is making its way towards the Gulf Coast. Rather than evacuate, Caroline decides to wait the storm out in the hotel. The morning after the storm, Caroline meets a world-class swimmer named Walker, who dives into the murky Gulf waters just after their conversation. When Walker doesn't resurface days later, a search begins for him and Caroline is seemingly the last person to have seen him. His disappearance jolts Caroline into a writing frenzy as she imagines his mindset and struggles to tell his tale to perfection.

Although the novel has few plot twists, Caroline's journey is an interesting one. Her connection to Walker and her feeling that in some ways they are the same person makes for interesting reading. Paddock includes a novel-within-a-novel with several rewrites as Caroline re-imagines Walker's time in the water.

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