Review

How Far Is the Ocean From Here

by Amy Shearn

On a recent road trip to southeastern New Mexico, derelict or
run-down motels and cafes whizzed past the window, interrupting my
view of the mesas and horizon. These buildings and businesses were
mysteriously erected between small towns or just outside them with
seemingly little to offer weary travelers. Yet, because I had just
read Amy Shearn's excellent debut, HOW FAR IS THE OCEAN FROM HERE,
they also held a strange promise of transformation and healing
solitude.

Susannah Prue is a young woman in danger of disappearing. She feels
unseen and unknown by even those closest to her. She makes the
radical decision to become a surrogate mother in order to do
something and feel something. But, just weeks before her due date,
she disappears on purpose, jumping into her car and traveling
southwest, heading to the ocean, and finally finding herself ---
literally and later figuratively --- at the Thunder Lodge, an empty
motel in the middle of the New Mexican desert.

Run by the gruff and long isolated Marlon and Char, the motel
proves an uneasy refuge for Susannah, a place she means to be only
a temporary home. Soon she falls into a routine, watching the
highway and spending time with the couple's strange son Tim.
Susannah is attracted by Tim's beauty and simplicity, and she
willfully ignores his disability, causing Marlon, and especially
Char, much distress. But Susannah is also distressed, and wounded,
and must decide quickly what she wants to do. It is only a matter
of time before Julian and Kit, the biological and legal parents of
the baby she is carrying, find her hiding at the Thunder
Lodge.

Julian and Kit are the successful couple who, from all appearances,
have everything that Susannah does not. But their inability to
conceive a child has led them to their uneasy relationship with
Susannah. While Kit deals deep-seeded suspicions and jealousies,
Julian finds himself attracted to Susannah, and they begin to spend
time together secretly. As the baby grows inside Susannah it
becomes harder to define the boundaries of their relationship, and
Susannah finds it more difficult to emotionally come to terms with
surrogacy. Often childlike and simple herself, the Thunder Lodge
and the surrounding desert provide empty space and ample time for
much-needed adult contemplation. It is interrupted only by her
fascination with Tim and the arrival of an intriguing pair of
travelers who also seem at a crossroads in life.

HOW FAR IS THE OCEAN FROM HERE is the story of longing --- for
freedom, peace, love and belonging to something greater than
oneself. The tone is at once conversational and completely
literary. There is a timelessness, not quite old-fashioned, in the
author's phrasing that makes the story lovely and surprising to
read. The characters are quirky without being caricatures. They are
not always likable, yet their stories, as individuals and as parts
of the larger novel, are compelling.

Amy Shearn's first work of fiction is nothing short of marvelous;
beautifully written with a well-crafted plot and an interesting set
of characters, it is at once witty, hopeful and heartbreakingly
sad. This tale of life and death, change and possibility, love,
friendship and the search for one's true self is highly
recommended. It has the stark and unusual beauty, brutal honesty
and seductive rhythms of the southwestern landscape in which it is
set.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

How Far Is the Ocean From Here
by Amy Shearn

  • Publication Date: July 22, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0307405346
  • ISBN-13: 9780307405340