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The Dive From Clausen's Pier: A Novel Paperback – April 8, 2003
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Carrie Bell is the worst person in the world. Or so she would have you think. In the gripping, carefully paced debut novel of personal epiphany, The Dive from Clausen's Pier, by O. Henry Award winner Ann Packer, Carrie's very survival is dependent upon her leaving her fiancé, even after he dives into shallow water at a Memorial Day picnic and becomes paralyzed. Things hadn't been going so well for the Madison, Wisconsin, high school and college sweethearts. Carrie knew, deep down, that she wasn't going to become Mrs. Michael Mayer. But expectations and pressure from all sides--his family, her mother, her best friend Jamie, Mike's best friend Rooster--force Carrie to shut herself up in her room and sew outfits of her own design as if in a trance. Then one night she slips out of the only universe she's ever known. Many hours later she finds herself on the doorstep of a high school classmate living in Manhattan. Carrie's adventures in the city--quirky roommates and a new romance with an older, emotionally impenetrable man--confuse her in her quest both to forgive herself and to embark on a career in fashion design. Packer writes in a convincing voice and packs a lot into this novel; she infuses Carrie with enough humanity and smarts to choose her own version of "happily ever after." --Emily Russin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Packer's engrossing debut novel begins without ostentation. On Memorial Day, Carrie Bell and her fiance, Mike Mayer, drive out to Clausen's Pier for their annual ritual, a picnic with their friends, a trip they make the way a middle-aged couple might, in grudging silence. Before their resentments can be aired, Mike dives into too shallow water, suffering injuries that change their lives. If Mike survives, he will survive as a quadriplegic, and Carrie faces unexpected responsibilities. Ultimately, Carrie does what is both understandable and unthinkable. She leaves her hometown of Madison, Wis., and shows up on the doorstep of a friend in New York City. There she discovers a different world, different friends and a different self. The hovering question--what will Carrie do? Abandon Mike or return to him?--generates genuine suspense. Packer portrays her characters--both New Yorkers and Madisonites--deftly, and her scenes unfold with uncommon clarity. But if Packer has a keen eye, she has an even keener ear. The dialogue is usually witty; more important, it is always surprising, as if the characters were actually thinking--one of the reasons they become as familiar to the reader as childhood friends. The recipient of several awards, Packer is also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories. Clearly, she has honed her skills writing short fiction. What is unexpected is the assurance she brings to a larger canvas. In quiet but beautiful prose, Packer tells a complex and subtly constructed story of friendship, love and the hold the past has on the present. This is the sort of book one reads dying to know what happens to the characters, but loves for its wisdom: it sees the world with more clarity than you do.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
About four months after Mike's accident, Carrie packs up her clothes and her sewing machine and, without telling anyone, drives away from Madison and winds up in New York. She looks up her high school friend, who fortuitously has a cheap place for her to stay, and she tracks down Kilroy, the much-older man who intrigued her, and they become lovers. Over the next few months, Carrie's life unfolds pretty predictably: lots of walking around New York, lots of oohing and aahing over hip New York fashion, lots of dating/job angst with her gay friend and their roommates, and lots of unrequited desire for emotional intimacy with moody Kilroy, who has many secrets, no friends, and an austere lifestyle. Of course Carrie falls in love with him, and as winter turns to spring, he begins planning a trip with her to France. Although she has no pretensions to art, she is captured by the paradoxical view of family offered by one of her roommates: "Miss Wolf is always telling me that the family is the enemy of the artist. Well, I think the family is the artist. Just like the sky is, or all the books you've ever read." But Carrie has no family -- her father abandoned her and her mother when she was three -- and that's one of the reasons she latched on to her fiance: she wanted his family. Eventually, Carrie whips out her sewing machine, which causes one of her roommates to drag her down to Parsons fashion school, where she signs up for courses and really impresses her professors. And that's when her best friend calls in the midst of a family crisis, asking Carrie to return to Madison to support her. After initially refusing, Carrie's stung into action by her friend's bitter words: "I don't know why I even asked/ Someone who dumps her boyfriend right after he breaks his neck? Forget it, of course you wouldn't come."
Except for her continued rejection by the bitter best friend, Carrie's return to Madison goes far more smoothly than I expected. There's plenty of coolness but little outright hostility, and she finds her way back to friendship with everyone in the end. Although she expects to be disappointed at the fabrics at the Madison shop she frequented before moving to the more glamorous offerings in New York fabric shops, Carrie finds that is not the case. In addition, although she misses her classes at Parsons, she actually lines up a paying design job in Madison. And however much she misses Kilroy, she can't seem to actually get on a plane because she's really interested in finding out how Mike's going to turn out. When Kilroy ships her the sewing machine she left in his apartment, that seals the deal: She's staying in Madison.
I found the ending of this novel a huge disappointment, which caused me to wonder first, why did Packer go with such a disappointing ending? The answer seems pretty obvious: She didn't view it as a disappointment. That left me wondering what I had missed? Upon reflection, the answer to that seemed pretty obvious as well. The Carrie who left Madison knew what she didn't want, and the Carrie who returned to Madison was primed to finally understand what she did want. She wanted a friend like Mike, who is forced to grow and adapt to his terrible fate, instead a lover like Kilroy, who is stuck in his austere world. She wanted to work with fabric, joining the pieces with her own hands, rather than become a fashion designer who sketches instead of sews. For Packer, the point of Carrie's surprising choice to stay in Madison is just that: her choice. In the year since Mike's accident, she's succeeded in taking command of her own life.
Carrie Bell has been having major second thoughts about her engagement to Mike Mayer, but has been lazily trying to anticipate what will happen rather than actively discussing her fears and worries with Mike. She makes no move to communicate or take action, so when he suddenly becomes an invalid, she feels trapped. She flees from their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin to New York where--conveniently--she rooms for free with a high school acquaintance, seems to exist on absolutely zero money (laughable for anyone who's ever even visited NYC, much less lived there), and spends a lot of time a) moping, b) sewing, and c) having sex with a new love interest. The new love interest is less open and available than Mike ever was (and has the improbable and annoying name of Kilroy), so of course he's very interesting to Carrie. Too bad he's not interesting to the reader--he's just annoying and pretentious.
Packer makes sure Kilroy has some mysterious past that he won't share with Carrie, but when he finally spills the beans, his big secret seems both inorganic and forced. When Carrie finally returns to Madison and tries to begin a new life in which Mike is just her friend, the story becomes believable again, even though Mike seems too tidily accepting of his terrible fate a mere year after the accident.
Packer really is a skilled writer in so many ways--see above--but the plot seemed to me to be simultaneously overly busy and really draggy. I felt like she would have benefited from some surgical editing--the book would have moved more briskly and been less flabby had her editor seen fit to cut 50 to 100 pages from its 400+ pages.
Honestly, I nearly drool when I think of how delicious this book is. I wish I could read it again for the first time.