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Richie's Picks: CLOSE TO SHORE,
This review is from: Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 (Bccb Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award (Awards)) (Hardcover)
The cover of CLOSE TO SHORE sports a photograph of a face that only a mother could love. But as we soon discover by diving into this gripping combination of history and science, such maternal "love" is not forthcoming when it comes to Carcharodon carcharias, the great white shark:
"The shark shared the womb with eight to ten other pups, and during gestation, the shark's brain triggered a simple equation: life = food = life. The life was very close, and the shark attacked--devouring the other pups. So the shark began life as a kind of in utero cannibal. Twelve to fourteen months after conception, it emerged having won the most elemental of sibling rivalries--the privilege to be born.
"The shark came out of the womb four to five feet long, fifty to eighty-five pounds, hunting. The shark had no air bladder for buoyancy, like most fish, so it had to keep moving, moving and killing and eating, or it would sink to the depths and die. There was no playful puppyhood, no more nurturing from parents. The newborn shark fled its mother. Her instinct was to eat the nearest food source. Nature pumped her full of hormones that diminished her appetite temporarily. Mother's parting gift to her pup was to give it a brief window of escape before she devoured it."
Of course, this was not the kind of information understood in 1916 when the experts were at first stubbornly dismissing the possibility that the cause of swimmers being chewed up along the Jersey shore could be shark-related. Mass numbers of Americans swimming in the ocean was a relatively new diversion in those days.
In this adaptation of his previously-published adult book, Michael Capuzzo intertwines today's knowledge of sharks with the historic accounts of that carnage nearly a century ago in order to drag us kicking and screaming through both the life of a shark and through those horrific summer days of 1916 when one of those sharks--for some unknown reason--began to feast on my grandparents' generation in their funny-looking, old-fashioned bathing costumes.
In fact, my grandfather, Rex--the guy who would spend hour after hour in the saltwater with me when I was little--grew up in New Jersey and was fourteen, staying at his family's Ocean Grove summer home, when the book's events took place. He was reportedly a little more cautious after the attacks--one of which took the life of teenager Charles Bruder, an oceanside resort's bell captain, just a few miles south of where Rex was swimming that particular day. (To think I might not be here today if that shark's hunger aimed it a little more northward!)
"...The shark was adapted to handle the crisis of hunger in ways human beings did not know in 1916, and struggled decades later to understand. As the shark swam, there is evidence the legs and bones of Charles Bruder cut off at the knees and pieces of the bell captain's torso remained preserved in the fish's stomach for later consumption, in the manner of a camel. Gleaming specimens of dolphins and mackerel, fresh as if iced in the fishmonger's window, have been pulled from the stomachs of sharks, as well as still-legible paper documents. But the most compelling proof of the shark's camel-like ability in crisis occurred on April 17, 1935, when Albert Hobston caught a thirteen-foot tiger shark off a Sydney, Australia, beach and towed it alive to the Coogee Aquarium. Eight days later, dying in captivity, the shark regurgitated a bird, a rat, and, eerily visible in a cloud of muck, a human arm--a thick, muscular arm, so well preserved that the forearm was clearly marked with a tattoo of two boxers. On the basis of a photograph of the tattoo, published in a Sydney newspaper, a man identified his brother, James Smith. The arm was preserved so well, it was accepted as evidence that led to the arrest of a man for murdering and dismembering Smith and dumping him at sea."
CLOSE TO SHORE is extensively illustrated with maps and newspaper copy from 1916, as well as photographs of the era's resorts, beach attire, and several of the human characters who were involved in this real-life drama.
That drama ends with the accidental netting of a shark, who is then beaten to death in hand-to-tooth combat by the two men in the little rowboat behind which the net was being dragged. While today's DNA testing would more conclusively link the body parts found in the shark's stomach to the New Jersey coastal victims, the evidence seems substantial enough to believe it to be the rogue killer who fortunately spared my grandfather, allowing me to exist and to grow up swimming off the Long Island beaches.
That I never encountered anything more than little sand sharks has undoubtedly much to do with the zeal of unenlightened generations to eliminate that jagged-toothed link in the marine biological chain as a result of such terrifying events as the shark attacks of 1916. CLOSE TO SHORE is a thriller that will introduce readers to this mysterious creatures of the deep and perhaps spawn a few marine biologists in the process.