The satisfying nightmares of Paula Hawkins’ novel “Into the Water.”
I mean it as high praise when I call a book “perfect for a long plane ride.” To qualify for this lofty accolade, a book must meet every one of several demanding criteria. The prose can’t be too dense, conceptual, or experimental; the reading has to feel effortless. The plot should be driven by an ever-mounting sense of intrigue, mystery, and suspense. There should be lots of dialogue, action, scene changes, and sudden revelations. The characters should feel like a living presence in the reader’s mind. The story must be emotionally intense, but it can’t be relentlessly gross, cruel, or perverse. This is the only time I consider reading contemporary realist fiction, which usually feels boringly mundane. But for the purpose of totally immersing myself in a vivid literary world when cooped up in a plane for hours on end, this kind of fiction can do the trick.
I have two additional criteria that are probably peculiar to me. The book should not be too focused on dreams and dreaming, lest I have to find a pen and start underlining passages and taking notes. That would pull me out of the fictional world for sure. Yet the book shouldn’t completely ignore dreams, either, because then I’m going to start wondering if the author has an adequate understanding of human nature, consciousness, desire, etc., and I’m pulled out of the story again.
All of which is to say, Paula Hawkins’ Into the Water (2017) is a perfect book for a long plane ride. The new novel from the writer of The Girl on the Train (2015), Into the Water has everything I’m looking for in this infrequent but high-pressure situation. Hawkins weaves an emotionally complex narrative about the experiences, memories, and dreams (more often nightmares) of a community of people living, and dying, along the banks of a river in rural England. I didn’t take notes while reading the book, so I’m not going to quote specific lines, but at several points I remember feeling pleasantly satisfied as a character slipped into a reverie or was consumed by a terrifying dream. In each instance it seemed just the right time for that character to have that kind non-rational experience. Authentic moments of dreaming flowed in and out of their waking lives, enhancing the overall sense of enjoyable fictional immersion.
I finished the book about a half hour before landing, giving me time to ponder the surprise ending and figure out how the story ultimately hangs together.
Exactly what I was looking for!
Note: Thanks to the bearded dude with the Blue Oyster Cult tattoo on his right shoulder working at the Casa del Libro bookstore in San Sebastian, Spain for pointing me and my wife to their small but excellent selection of English-language books. He also recommended for plane reading the magically engaging Career of Evil (2016) by Robert Galbraith.