The Bookshelf: Sneaker Wave

Written by Jeff Beamish, 2013, Oolichan Books; Reviewed by Corinne Smith

They’re called sneaker waves because they appear without warning, running high up onto the beach with sometimes deadly force; they are an apt metaphor for the unpredictable ways in which the lives of the characters in this novel are affected by their choices.

Sneaker Wave, set in the Pacific Northwest, is a story about friendship, loss and regret. When we first meet them, the four main characters are just 17 and about to finish high school. One night they take over an abandoned house and invite their friends over to party. A neighbour comes to break it up and leaves in an ambulance, unconscious and in critical condition. Only Brady Joseph and his three friends know the horrible truth. Their code of silence keeps them out of jail and connected long after the incident, despite the divergent paths their lives take.

The police think Luke did it; he’s a bad apple with nothing to lose. Luke thinks Brady will cave, but then Luke isn’t used to anyone standing up for him because everyone in his life has failed him. Sam seems to be along for the ride, and any old ride will do. Sarah is Brady’s girlfriend and the daughter of a prominent doctor who doesn’t trust Brady, not that it matters to Sarah. She is a tough girl and a rebel without a cause. Brady seems like a good kid who has made some bad choices, including the company he keeps.

Are they credible characters? Mostly, yes. Are they likeable? Not so much. But maybe that’s part of what makes this story work, along with its tightly drawn plot.

Brady, our trusty narrator, tries to straighten up and fly right, but with the eyes of an entire town watching his every move he is overwhelmed with guilt (and paranoia) and ends up doing some pretty stupid stuff. And while I wanted to feel sorry for him (he’s our protagonist after all), by the end of the novel I was mostly annoyed with him and with his wife for being such a long-suffering fool. I don’t think this was the author’s intent, so either I’ve become an irascible old woman or Beamish should have worked a little harder on developing his characters.

Events don’t occur in chronological order in the story, and while I’m generally not a fan of the flashback, Beamish manages the transitions quite well. He uses the device just enough to keep the reader a little off balance.

If I had edited this book it would have been about 100 pages shorter and minus a few overwrought similes and a couple of unnecessary characters. But then I can be pretty ruthless sometimes.

Sneaker Wave, published in October 2013, is Jeff Beamish’s first novel. He works as a newspaper editor and reporter in Vancouver and lives in Surrey, B.C.

Corinne Smith spends her days editing engineering reports and has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is working (very slowly) on a novel and divides her time between Jamaica and B.C.

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