Two If By Sea, Jacquelyn Mitchard, author; George Newbern,
I think it is hard for an author to write a novel that is similar in theme to another of her successful books, even years later. It invites comparison, and it is hard to measure up. “The Deep End of the Ocean” also involves a child that is missing. In that one, the child was taken and kidnapped. In this one, a child is stolen, taken after being rescued, not necessarily kidnapped. In both, there are evil people who must be brought to justice. Both books carefully examine the behavior and justification of the victims involved. Both stories tug at the reader’s heartstrings, but this one sometimes stretched credibility with some pretty odd occurrences.
At first, the book seemed to be about a tragic tsunami, and for sure, the beginning of the book begins with one that will bring to mind the horrible tragedy in Phuket, Thailand, in 2008, but this tsunami, never actually occurred. It supposedly took place in Australia in 2011, as Frank Mercy and Natalie, his Australian wife of about two years, were celebrating Xmas Eve with her family at the Murry Sand Castle Inn on Bribie Island in Brisbane. On that night, they announced to all of their relatives, that they would soon be having a child, a son. Married late, both 40 years old, they were not sure they would ever have children, and they and their extended family were ecstatic. However, as my mom used to say, Man plans and G-d laughs, and indeed, G-d must have been having quite a time. The terrible disaster that the author created wiped out all but one of Natalie’s family, her brother Brian, who had not been in his room asleep, as the rest of the family were when the wave came. Frank also survived because he was on a viewing platform overlooking Bribie Island Beach and not asleep in his room either. Suddenly, he was a widower, completely bereft. His wife and future son were both lost in the disaster. Their plans to move back to America were dashed. His future was totally altered. It was the before and after moment of his life.
Frank joined the rescue effort as a volunteer, hoping that by some miracle Natalie had survived with their unborn child. While attempting to save a family that was trapped in a partially submerged car that was being swept away by the flood waters, he only managed to save one of the children, a small child of about three years old. He watched as the older brother and the driver of the car were carried off by the force of the water. This rescued child forms the crux of the story, but romance also imbues the tale. It took me by surprise because it seemed to happen very quickly after his loss, but nevertheless, it engaged my interest.
Frank Mercy, aptly named, took the child he rescued to the hospital. Neither he nor the child seemed able to part with each other. He named him Ian, a name he thought had just popped into his head, and against his nature, since he was once a law enforcement officer, he arranged for false papers and took the child to his family farm in Wisconsin, leaving his memories of the tragedy and his former home in Australia behind, as well as leaving any family Ian might have had, to search for that missing child in vain.
Frank’s family had horses, and he intended to become a trainer. He transported his horse, Glory Bee, with him on the plane he took to the United States with Ian. Soon, Frank and others noticed that Ian had some kind of a special gift around the horses. He managed to calm people and other animals and was able to influence their behavior, simply by being there. There was a peacefulness and serenity about him, and so he was well liked by everyone he met. He truly seemed to have the wisdom of an adult. Because he used simple hand signals to express himself, and he had not spoken at all since his rescue, Frank and others simply assumed he was mute.
Once they settled in at the farm, Frank was introduced to a beautiful young psychiatrist, Claudia, who asked him to help her train with her horse Prospero, for what might be her last opportunity to compete in the Olympics. Like his lost Natalie, she too was a doctor, and she also had a strong personality. Soon, one thing led to another and their relationship blossomed. As Ian, once again, found his own voice, Frank learned more and more about his past, about his unusual lifestyle, about his brother and his parents and about the “bad” people who frightened and chased him. Soon Frank discovered that they were all in danger from these “bad” people, who were after Ian, but he seemed reluctant to face it or deal with it. He simply ignored the danger, although it was obvious that it was not happenstance. It was here that the book failed a bit for me. It became a bit melodramatic and implausible. After all, Frank, a former cop, now bereaved, became suddenly preoccupied with a new romantic interest and his stolen child, completely ignoring or perhaps even recognizing, the ever present signs of danger. He did not report the crimes that occurred, even when they involved violence and loss of life. He seemed to just go on as if nothing untoward had happened, as if he was living in an alternate reality, a place where nothing troublesome or tragic had occurred. The book began to feel very much like a fairy-tale.
Still, the narrator was really good, especially with accents. He was able to alternate voices so that each character had its own identity. With the themes of magic and a bit of fantasy, including people who had special mind controlling gifts, it held my interest. It was Ian’s gentle personality, though, that seemed to pervade the entire narrative, endearing himself to me as he made even the most violent scenes tolerable. It felt like he was the glue that connected me to the narrative and kept my "pages" turning as I listened to the audio.