Struggling with the pressures of being a new father and the weight of regrets, Jamie Fletcher travels to Hawaii in hopes of connecting with his estranged brother, Eric.
After a shocking act of violence, the brothers end up on a fishing boat–along with the captain and his son–in the middle of the ocean, where they encounter an uncanny and terrifying phenomenon that will signal a shift in the evolution of the world.
Heavy Oceans opens with a nightmare moment of violence, with our protagonist, Jamie, in Hawaii to visit his estranged and troubled brother, Eric. The sudden intrusion of violence is so swift and so deftly delivered that it truly does unfold in a kind of dream logic that is both tense and terrifying, and we believe that we are in this kind of book.
This will be a story about the bonds of family tested by extreme situations, wrestling with the past. A psychological crime novel, essentially. And when the plot shifts to the disposal of a body, the reader feels that their understanding is confirmed.
And Heavy Oceans is all of these things, but once the boat carrying a corpse is out on the water, it becomes something altogether else as well.
The four men that have found themselves thrust into this situation suddenly find themselves facing a greater, more existential threat as a massive sinkhole opens in the ocean itself and their boat tumbles in, falling down into the depths and then–Alice-like– is left hanging suspended between the sky below and the endless dark of the ocean above.
Suddenly, the novel becomes both a survival story and an exercise in cosmic horror, as what lies deep within the Pacific rises (or is it descending?), transforming this little morality play into something right out of an old EC comics Tales from The Crypt.
Jones’ prose is clean and precise throughout, filtering all of the bizarre events through Jamie’s shell-shocked consciousness, and the plot is fairly propulsive. Heavy Water could easily be read in a sitting (I listened to the wonderfully performed audiobook), and it’s a read that delivers everything promised in the first chapters and then so much more.
If the novel has a weakness, it comes with a rather truncated ending, leaving a lot of Jamie’s character arc kind of abandoned, with many narrative avenues left unexamined. The result is that Jamie ends up feeling a bit less like a protagonist and more like one of Lovecraft’s hapless observers, he alone survived to tell the tale.
It’s a small gripe, and one that I suspect won’t interfere with most readers’ enjoyment, at least some of which boils down to simply trying to categorize the novel at all. The nearly arbitrary nature of the violence, and of the later horrors, are effective and chilling, and the character work is vivid and efficient.
If you like your family drama with a healthy dose of deep-sea horror, Heavy Oceans will tick all the boxes.