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Day Four


Day Four

DAY FOUR may be the summer beach read from hell, but it’s a fun one. It doesn’t seem like a vacation book, given that it is set at the end of December. However, it does takes place on a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico, which should conjure up thoughts of relaxation, though that’s not what it ultimately delivers. What the novel does provide from the jump is a sense of foreboding so thick you could cut it with a knife as things go from not so wonderful to very, very bad.

The cruise ship industry is not going to love DAY FOUR. The majority of this sophomore effort by Sarah Lotz is set within the somewhat claustrophobic confines of the not-so-good-ship named, ironically, The Beautiful Dreamer, part of a fleet of older ships belonging to a down-at-the-heels cruise line that has had problems before, though never quite on the scale that they’re about to have. That has not stopped the folks who have signed on for a five-day cruise over the extended New Year's Eve holiday, complete with nonstop eating, drinking, aggressive dating, shopping and other fun activities.

"DAY FOUR may be the summer beach read from hell, but it’s a fun one.... What the novel does provide from the jump is a sense of foreboding so thick you could cut it with a knife as things go from not so wonderful to very, very bad."

As the opening page so carefully notes, not much happens on the first three days of the cruise. It is not until the fourth day that things go sideways, although that’s not entirely accurate. The Dreamer doesn’t go sideways so much as it begins listing to one side, which is just one result of a major power failure that leaves the ship as dead as Julius Caesar in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, with mal- and non-functioning toilets, showers and kitchens.

Yes, Lotz really knows how to kill a mood here (I was going to call her a party-pooper, but that would’ve been in poor taste, considering what occurs on the Dreamer), as she creates a horrifyingly accurate extrapolation of what happens when a boatload of already irritating people are all isolated together as creature comforts go out the window and several floors of cruise ship go third-world all at once.

The reader gets to watch this horror show unfold from the viewpoints of several different characters in this memorable cast, including the much-put-upon assistant to a psychic whose channel-the-dead schtick may be more than schtick; a ship’s doctor who is fighting the residual guilt from a horrible mistake he made as well as a serious addiction; two older women who plan to kill themselves at the beginning of the new year; a serial date rapist; and a member of the ship’s much-beleaguered security force with his own unfortunate secrets. The constantly shifting observations document the slow-motion creation of a claustrophobic atmosphere of terror over the course of just a couple of days as hell literally breaks loose.

Oh, and did I neglect to mention that the ship appears to be haunted by some very mysterious spirits? There’s also the body of a young woman discovered in one of the cabins, and while efforts are made to cover that up --- literally --- they meet with little success. That is quite ironic, given that the Dreamer is completely unable to make any contact with the outside world.

Yes, it’s wild times on board The Beautiful Dreamer, on a nightmare cruise that seems to last forever --- and not just for the passengers. And therein lies a bit of the rub about DAY FOUR. I got the sense that between the beginning of the book and its haunting, enigmatic ending, there was a bit of story padding. A disclaimer here: I am not a cruise ship guy. I don’t like being out of sight of land or being somewhere that I cannot leave on whim, desire or necessity, particularly when stuck with a group of people of the size or type with whom I ordinarily wouldn’t socialize, even for payment. Still, the middle of the book seemed a bit longer than it actually was.

As for the ending, it is slow-motion chilling. While it was a foregone conclusion that everyone who was on board at the beginning wouldn’t make it to the end (or maybe they do), the conclusion will surprise you. You be the judge of that. Oh, and one other thing. I don’t want to give away the ending (and, alas, some folks have done that already), but it prompted me to do some research into how many people disappear off the face of the earth every year. Check it out. You may be surprised and not find the conclusion to be so preposterous after all.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 19, 2015

Day Four
by Sarah Lotz

  • Publication Date: February 28, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316242950
  • ISBN-13: 9780316242950