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HOW FAR IS THIS FROM A GOOD NOVEL—AMY SHEARN’S HOW FAR IS THE OCEAN FROM HERE.

Amy Shearn’s debut is an earnest and sincere endeavor that nevertheless doesn’t work for me. How Far is the Ocean From Here centers on a runaway surrogate mother with an entirely unclear notion of where she’s going or why. She ends up in a rundown motel in New Mexico, where various circumstances combine to propel Susannah Prue toward the ocean in a stolen car with a young girl and a retarded 17-year-old adonis.

Shearn performs some interesting acrobatics with her point-of-view, sending the reader ping-ponging sometimes among three or four POV’s and backstories in the same scene. It’s an interesting device, which she handles skillfully and without confusion. However, it comes off more as a piece of showmanship than an aid to meaning or exploration of character. Similarly, the girl our pregnant protagonist takes off with has a serious physical issue. revealed only near the end, which is gross manipulation because it is central to the protagonist’s life and would be part of her every waking thought and probably some of her dreams as well. (I won’t name the issue here in case you want to read the book) Because Shearn treats it so late and so lightly, it seems to be more of a sideshow oddity than a serious attempt to explore a dilemma. The character is secondary to the story, and the problem so interesting and unique that it deserves fuller treatment. As it is, Shearn leaves us without backstory, solution, or foreshadowing of solution concerning a situation that has captured our attention. Unfair and a serious flaw.

Finally, the pivotal event of the book seems to me to occur without sufficient foundation. Prue’s flight to the ocean happens at a time and in a way that could occur only if she were deranged, not merely confused and upset. In my mind, she isn’t nearly far enough gone to make the leap. Similarly, the (indeterminate and interminable) time she spends at the motel seems unbelievably aimless. I felt the author stalling for plot convenience, did not believe the character is stuck as Shearn would like us to believe she is. I found myself skipping large hunks of interior description because I’d already learned as much as I wanted to about these people and wanted simply to get on with the action. Maybe it’s a guy thing.

So, despite its virtues, I think the book is pretty much of a dud. Can’t recommend it, though I wish the young author well.

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