Rating: 2 stars
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Photographer David sails into Vancouver Island harbor looking to shoot Orca whales for a photography book he has in mind and not much else. David’s 30 ft sailboat, Wanderer, is all the home he wants or needs. Then David hires Capt. Jack Lewis’ charter boat for a whale watching trip and everything changes. David’s anguished past has kept him from any sort of permanence, whether it is of a location or of the heart. His recent history is that of transience, always on the road or water as the case maybe. It’s his way of protecting himself and his heart from any additional pain and commitment. But meeting Jack and getting a taste of a relationship is making inroads into his heart and scaring him senseless.
When Jack looked into the eyes of the man who wanted to charter his boat, he was lost. David is gorgeous and mysterious, but the pain Jack also sees reflected back to him makes him want to take David into his arms and never let him go. Jack has had his fill of casual sexual relationships and hookups, especially in the case of Emerson, a young man who trades sex for status and perhaps money. David is everything that Emerson is not, David is older, fascinating, and as a freelance photojournalist, independent. Before he is aware that it is happening, Jack is falling for David and soon wants much more than perhaps David is capable of giving.
The unexpected relationship between Jack and David moves into dangerous waters as Emerson’s emotions and jealously spiral out of control and combine with David’s fears of commitment and permanence. The emotions build until an explosion born of unresolved relationships and expectations shatter the bonds that holds all the men together.
Sometimes when you read a book, all the good elements you find in a story will be overwhelmed by the issues and outright problem areas also to be found at that same time. Unfortunately, that is the case with Changing Tide by D.P. Denman. In fact there are so many issues to be found within this story that I am going to start with the aspects I liked and enjoyed the most.
I loved the location. Denman does Vancouver Island proud by portraying the climate, landscape, and natural marvels in such a way that I wanted to grab a plane, then charter a boat myself to see the wonders that Vancouver Island and the surrounding seas have to offer. This includes the majesty and magic of whale watching. Even if I was not a naturalist, the passages where Jack spoke in awe of his experiences with Orcas would have reached me emotionally. Here is an excerpt:
“So tell me about these killer whales,” he shifted the conversation in a not so subtle new direction.
“I bet you’ve seen a lot of them over the years.”
“Quite a few. We’re getting to be old friends,” Jack smiled into his mug.
“Does any particular sighting stand out or do they all just flow together?”
“Some stand out, usually because of people’s reaction. A lot of them burst into tears at the sight of an orca.”
“Amazed. It can be a bit awe-inspiring if you’re not used to it. Hell, it can be awe inspiring even if you are.”
“Nothing like Sea World, huh?”
“Not even a little. They don’t look like much when you see them out of context. They’re just another fin in a tank.” The look on his face and the tone in his voice reflected the same awe he tried to describe.
That describes in a nutshell some of the highlights and problems with this story. It starts out well, but somewhere around the middle it goes awry. Orcas are pretty amazing no matter how or where you see them (in my opinion), but he is saying that they are just another fin in a tank in captivity while his “voice is reflecting” awe? Something got lost there. And the following description of the encounter displays the same missed opportunity by the author. Its almost right but something in the writing is out of kilter.
“I was out in my old boat, a 30-footer. I killed the engine a few yards out of the straight, right in the middle of the water so we wouldn’t miss anything. Half the group was on the aft deck. A few of us were crouched at the bow and I saw this fin come up out of the water a few yards away. I knew it was going to be close so we called everyone up to the bow. The next thing I know I’m watching this animal as big as a semi come up from the deep almost right under us. The bastard broke the surface close enough to look me in the eye and suddenly all I could see was killer whale.”
An experienced captain is in a 30 ft boat with passengers. A huge orca’s fin breaks the surface of the water only a few yards away. And he calls the people over to the side? That makes no sense, and ruins Jack’s credibility as a native and experienced boat captain. But that is probably my mildest complaint with this story. We are still getting some wonderful descriptions of how it feels to be on the water, and in Denman’s hand, I defy anyone not to want to make Vancouver Island a vacation destination for any future travel plans.
The author also appears to be familiar with sailboats and her description of David’s small living area aboard the Wanderer felt authentic enough to make me a little claustrophobic. The same goes for Jack’s gorgeous house that faces the Sound. I would love to see that one too. Actually I would love to live there. From the descriptions of the views seen from inside the bedroom, that would have me moving in a heartbeat.
But this is not a travelogue, nor a real estate brochure. Nor even a finished product. And that brings me back to the issues and problem areas I spoke of earlier.
First would be the editing and formatting. My copy starts out with the first chapter mislabeled as the Epilogue. Now aside from the fact that an epilogue is found at the back of the book, an epilogue usually shows some sort of closure for the main characters or aspect of the story and this is not a epilogue in any way. It is merely a mislabeled chapter 1, not even a prologue.
Then there is the issues of characterization. My mildest complaint again is that the author shows little continuity, starting with the fact that two of her characters have last names and one of her main characters, David, does not. Either all of them should have complete names or leave it as first names only for everyone in the book. There’s Crystal, David, Kathy, Cindy, and Brett. Then there is Jack Lewis and Emerson Reid. Yes, it’s a small issue, but descriptive of the bigger ones to be found with the characters and the narrative.
David is probably the only character I enjoyed as he also seemed the most fleshed out. His back history combined with his present situation seemed realistic. He earns our sympathy and affection. Then there are all the others, primarily Jack and Emerson. It seemed as though the author had two personas for each of them and couldn’t decide on which was to use. So Denman used both. Jack is an enabling jerk, selfish, and lazy. He is shallow and self deceiving. Jack is also thoughtful, respectful of others, and too kind for his own good. And for me Jack is also finally unlikable. Then there is Emerson, a 23-year old of murky background and obvious mental and emotional issues. No one knows Emerson’s true back history so the idea is planted that he is both a gold digger as well as someone so emotionally unstable that he lives in a fantasy world. Everyone appears to know that something is really wrong with Emerson, but no one suggests that he gets help.
Then Denman combines these two somewhat distasteful personas into a convoluted relationship and the story bogs down under its own issues. At times Jack is supposedly so sexually attracted to Emerson that he can’t stay away, having sex with him even after declaring his affections lie elsewhere. At other times Jack is treating Emerson like an annoying vagrant dog, petting him, giving out scraps then shutting the door on him. The author’s treatment of Emerson is no better. Emerson screeches like a “drama queen,” begs, pouts, shouts, lies, and acts hurt. I was often left unsure as to what I should be feeling about Emerson. Should it be pity or irritation or something more? And it’s not like these are realistic, layered characterizations, but rather small, distinct, shallow ones that are constantly deviating from one scene to the next, as slippery as a fish out of water. And these two characters have the same scene over and over again throughout the story. This is a typical exchange between the two men:
Emerson pushed the door closed, wrapped arms around him and tried to kiss him. He grabbed his arms and pulled him right back off.
“We need to talk.”
“We can talk later. Fucking first,” Emerson tried to squirm out of his grip.
“This isn’t one of those visits,” his tone got Emerson’s attention.
“Nothing’s wrong, exactly. I just think you and I have reached a point where it’s time to end this.”
Emerson blinked back at him and the eager expression slid to a pensive scowl. “What?”
“It’s obvious you want something I’m not willing to give so I think it’s better if we stop seeing each other.”
“Who says I want something else?”
“At some point you move on.”
“Why?” Emerson looked stricken.
“Because that’s how it works. Come on, Em, you know I’ve wanted out of this for a while. It’s just time,” he reached out to caress his arm and Emerson pulled out of reach.
“We don’t fit.”
“We’ve been fitting just fine until now,” he snapped, stricken turning to anger. “It’s because of him, isn’t it?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Jack. That tall drink of whore you were with the other night.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with him. Besides, you and I have never been exclusive. Just because someone else shows up doesn’t mean I have to choose between you.”
Emerson reached out to slap him and he caught his wrist before the hand made contact.
“That’s not news to you so don’t pretend it’s any kind of insult.” “Let go of me,” Emerson snatched his hand back.
“It doesn’t matter,” he shook his head. “The point is we’ve been at this too long. Casual doesn’t last forever, right?
Now this scene goes on for another page or two. More dialog of exactly the same thing until Jack finally leaves, but not before telling Emerson that he likes him and touching his cheek in a lover-like manner, totally negating everything that Jack said prior. Talk about mixed messages and not just from Jack, but the author too. Then take this sad, irritating, and confused scene and repeat it in some form numerous times throughout the story. I said in some form because sometimes Jack stays and they have sex, then the same dialog picks up from there. There is no growth shown, no real change in how the men act or feel, just a repetition of the above back and forth argument and enabling behavior. Trust me when I said the exasperation set in around the halfway point and never actually went away.
And in between this never ending argument and emotional stalemate, Jack and David are trying to have a relationship that comes with its own issues as well.
So in between lovely descriptive scenes of Vancouver Island and water, the reader is forced to wade through pages of confused characterizations, dense dialog, and what could have been a terrific little plot. However, in Changing Tide the negatives end up overpowering all the positive aspects. The writing is uneven and the narrative dense and repetitive. Given better editing, this story and this review might have been all together different. As it is, I have to tell you to give it a pass.