This gorgeous book is a philosophical exploration of topics described in the title, flitting between characters and incidents as various as Captain Cook, shark researchers, and schizophrenic surfers paddling out to sea. McCarthy, who is the chief obituary reviewer of the International Necronautical Society, a group whose goal is to “bring death out into the world,” came to sharks and surfing by writing obituaries of surfers, and thus, of the sharks that sometimes kill them. Her disparate narratives are connected by the themes and feelings central to surfing: balance, slippage, misdirection. Thus, she disorients us, lulls us. Reading this book feels just like being at sea, the unknown lurking below our sight, epithany always accompanied by the threat of calamity. Or, in a direct quote from the book, “We all realize that the chances of being taken by a shark are exceedingly remote, but it is the horror of having chunks bitten from one’s body while still alive which evokes fear out of all proportion to the actual danger.”— Madeleine
We encounter the world through surfaces: the screen, the page, our skin, the ocean's swell. Here on the sea is the surfer, positioned at the edge of the collapsing wave. And lurking underneath in a monstrous mirroring is the shark. When the two meet, carving along the surface, breaking through the boundary, death appears.
Steering her analysis from the newspaper obituary through literature and past cinema, Melissa McCarthy investigates a fundamental aspect of the human condition: our state of being between life and death, always in precarious and watery balance. Sharks, Death, Surfers observes how sharks have been depicted over centuries and across cultures, then flips the lens (and dissects the cornea) to consider what sharks see when they look back.
These refracted lines of inquiry—optical, philosophical, historical—converge at the focal point where we can fix the image of the surfer and the shark. This is the picture McCarthy frames: the cartilaginous companions gliding together in a perfect model of how to read, navigate, and exist.
She connects the disparate narratives through concepts that are central to surfing and inherent to sharks: balance, slippage, steering, lurking, vision, light, shadows, misdirection. The method is effectively disorienting, pulling the reader into sudden, unexpected points of connection.—Bookforum—