Monday, December 23, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Waterline by Ross Raisin

Once again, I’ve done my traditional depressing holiday read. I’m not sure why I do this to myself, but I seem to choose a contemporary literary downer each year right around Christmas. The books are always very good, but they don’t leave me filled with cheer.

A year or so ago, I participated in a literary blog hop giveaway. I didn’t win anything, but the hop did add several books to my TBR pile. One of these was Waterline by Ross Raisin. The blurb sounded gritty and poignant and the reviewer was so enthusiastic that I felt compelled to buy the book to be sure I wouldn’t forget about it. And this weekend, I finally pulled it off my shelf.

Waterline follows the descent of Mick Little, a one-time shipbuilder in the Glasgow yards. We meet him on the day of his wife’s funeral. She died from mesothelioma, a cancer resulting from the exposure to asbestos that she received secondhand during the years he came home from the yard coated with it. His guilt is enormous. How did he escape the disease? Why should she be the one to die from it?

Mick has two grown sons. He is more or less estranged from one. He gets along with the other, Robbie, but Robbie has moved to Australia. Robbie and his wife have come for the funeral, but shortly afterward, they leave for their own home.

Mick is just as glad to have everyone out of his house. It’s uncomfortable with them there. But as soon as they leave, he falls apart.

Waterline is a wrenching story of a man who loses everything when the bottom drops out of his world. His wife is dead and he is unable to go on living. Many years ago, he lost the job that defined him. Work for him now is scraping by to pay the bills as a hired driver, but he had been doing that to support his wife and family. Now, work has no purpose.

Mick withdraws into his grief. He drinks. He barely leaves his house. He runs out of money. Eventually, he runs away to London–not so much to try to start fresh, although he does try–but because he wants to escape from the possibility of anyone he knows seeing what he has become. He manages to find a job in London for a brief time, but it doesn’t last. He falls deeper and deeper into alcoholism and homelessness.

The book sucked me in. I found Mick’s helplessness in the face of his grief and loneliness very realistic and easy to understand. I felt the unfairness of his situation as opportunity to work, a potential lifeline for him, was pulled away, leaving him with nothing but hours to brood and drink. The book is a brutal account of the daily existence of a man who is barely getting by, day-by-day, by drinking himself into a fog of forgetfulness- or unthinkingness. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of a homeless alcoholic, how someone can survive on the streets and what might have happened to someone to bring them to such a state.

Raisin is an extraordinary writer, taking us deep into Mick’s thoughts and Mick’s world. It’s an awful place to be but it’s a marvelous book. It’s also a good reminder, particularly at this time of year, to be grateful for my blessings and not to take for granted the time I have with my loved ones.

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