The following is a summary of The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer from the Random House website.
How much do we owe the people we love? Is it a sign of strength or weakness to walk away from someone in need? These questions lie at the heart of Ann Packer’s intimate and emotionally thrilling new novel, which has won its author comparisons with Jane Hamilton and Sue Miller.
At the age of twenty-three Carrie Bell has spent her entire life in Wisconsin, with the same best friend and the same dependable, easygoing, high school sweetheart. Now to her dismay she has begun to find this life suffocating and is considering leaving it–and Mike–behind. But when Mike is paralyzed in a diving accident, leaving seems unforgivable and yet more necessary than ever. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier animates this dilemma–and Carrie’s startling response to it–with the narrative assurance, exacting realism, and moral complexity we expect from the very best fiction.
I happened to pick this book up at a used book sale at a library a few years ago and it has been sitting on my shelf ever since. I think I opened it up a couple of times only to close it again thinking that it was going to take too long to read. Boy was I wrong...I finished this one in about a week, which is great reading for me!
There is very significant subject matter in this novel and beautiful writing to go along with it. As I indicated, I purchased this book used and I noticed that someone had underlined a very thought-provoking passage that I want to share with you. The following passage is from page 282:
It seems to me that we learn each other in stages: facts first, meanings later, like explorers who stumble on to bodies of water without knowing at first whether they've encountered fog-shrouded rivers or vast ocieans. We press on until we know, but as we go something is lost: The new becomes old, and then taken for granted, and then forgotten.
The accident happens in the very beginning of the novel, without giving much of a prelude to the current status of Mike and Carrie's relationship. It is apparent that they are engaged at the time, but it becomes more obvious as the novel goes on that the relationship was hanging by a thread. Most family and friends seem to be unaware of the conflict between the couple, so when Carrie's devotion towards Mike is swayed, the people that she has counted on for support turn away from her.
When Carrie seems to have no-one left to share her most intimate feelings with, she flees the comfortable life that she has always known in search for something more. After she leaves her life behind, she is plagued with the guilt of leaving Mike, who needed her most at this time. One might think that this part of the novel didn't make any sense, that she was just wandering without any sense or purpose. I think it's important to remember at this point that this is a young gal that recently graduated from college with her whole life ahead of her. In an instant her whole future changed, so who is to say how one would react to that?
As Carrie deals with her emotions throughout the novel, she immerses herself into sewing projects. The significance of the two large projects that she has sewn for herself becomes apparent at the end of the novel. It really was interesting how Packer had these two items of clothing fit in to the story of Carrie's journey.
A part of this book that I really enjoyed was the respect that Carrie seemed to develop for her mother throughout the book. Carrie's father left when she was very young so it was just the mother/daughter duo her whole life. When Carrie met Mike she seemed to spend more time with his family, leaving her mom to fend for herself. I think that once Carrie realized how lonely of a life her mom has lived, she had a new respect for her.
I think that this was an honest story that showed what could realistically happen in a similar situation. I really enjoyed this book and although I read this on my own I think this would make a great book club discussion that would include topics of morals, friendships, and human nature.