Book Review: Under the Wave at Waimea

Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux

Travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux has for years now split his time between Cape Cod and Hawaii. It's not a surprise then that his latest novel is set in Hawaii. Under the Wave at Waimea is the story of an aging big wave surfer named Joe Sharkey. The older folks know him by reputation but he's bothered that the young generation of surfers don't. Aside from that he's happy and fills his days with surfing and living the good life in Hawaii. He's been able to live off of surfing sponsorships and money inherited from his mother and has never had to work - surfing is his life.

Then the 62 year old surfer hits and kills a homeless biker while driving home from the bar. He slowly sinks into a spiral of depression, leaving his partner, a nurse, to try to help him put his life back together.  

The book is broken into thirds. In the first third we follow Joe's life after he's met his new-ish girlfriend / partner Olive, through the accident and into the depths of his downward fall. In the second (and longest) third we flash back and follow Joe from childhood up to meeting Olive. Finally in the last third Olive guides Joe out of his fog and to a satisfying ending to the story.

At first I found the book a bit uneven, and the main character not all that likable. There are a lot of subplots, especially in the second third, and at times you wonder where the book is headed. But in the final third Theroux pulls the threads together in some unexpected ways, yielding an ending that has a big emotional impact. 

While I liked this book it did drag in places. There is a whole subplot about the author Hunter S. Thompson, supposed to be a friend of Sharkey's, that really didn't have a lot to do with advancing the storyline and, like Thompson himself, was a bit over the top. There is a whole bunch of surfing detail in the book which is respectful and beautifully written, but I've heard mixed reviews on this - some have pointed out that Theroux is not a surfer himself and got some of the technical details wrong, which could put you off the book if you are a surfer.

If you have spent time in Hawaii among Hawaiians, or even if you are just interested in learning more about Hawaii, I think you'll appreciate the Hawaiian-ness of the book. And I did like the way everything came together in the end. I think if you stick with it through the draggy parts you'll be glad you read this book. Overall I give Under the Wave at Waimea Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐.

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