Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916

   "We're not just afraid of predators, we're transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about them, because fascination creates preparedness, and preparedness, survival.  In a deeply tribal sense, we love our monsters." ~E.O. Wilson~

   So begins "Close to Shore"...

   When I first saw this book I was like, O-M-S-J, a non-fiction book on sharks!  I love sharks, love the ocean, and this is the true story of one of the worst shark attacks (and first recorded) in the America.  This horrific event was the basis for Peter Benchley's "Jaws", which of course led to Speilberg's movie adaptation of that book.  I've read and seen "Jaws", the book was fantastic, the movie was fantastic, but no fiction can ever compare nor compete with true events.  I enjoyed Capuzzo's style of writing, it was clear, concise, focused on the facts and not the sensationalism that most writers would have focused on.  This story didn't need sensationalism, the events were sensationalist enough.  Now that's not to say Capuzzo didn't squeeze out a bit of overactive drama, he did, but it wasn't over-the-top annoying and only sparingly.  He stuck to the facts and turned out an amazing and heart wrenching story.  He did a very clever few chapters from the shark's perspective, what it was feeling and thinking while it prowled the ocean and river of the East Coast.
  Capuzzo paints a detailed portrait of life and the people, and people's mentality, of the early 1900's.  The age of industry and automobile.  Beaches were a privileged past time, not the sun bathing, beach volleyball, girl/guy watching, water sports entity as we know it today.  Men and women wore "bathing costumes"; men shirt & shorts, women full bodied bathing costumes that covered all, and I mean all.  The latest fashion sweeping 1916 was a women's bathing costume that revealed ankles.  It was scandalous and some women were being arrested for it.  No, that's not a joke.  There were beach patrols that roamed the beaches measuring bathing costumes and making sure no tantalizing ankles were being scantily and seductively shown.  We laugh and scoff at such nonsense, because now women are practically naked on the beach, some are actually naked, which makes very happy I live in this era and not 1916. :)
   Capuzzo did a great job of not just giving us facts from this event, but also weaved an America that was on the threshold of a World War.  I had just finished Fall of Giants, which again I must rec every single person to read, and it was so cool to be reading 2 books based in the same era.  Capuzzo did painstakingly thorough research and you can tell from all the delicious details.
   Though in fact Capuzzo did do his due diligence and consulted with top ichthyologists both past & present, it is still undetermined what species of shark it was that savagely killed 4 people, including one 11yr old, and wounded one child.  The general consensus is it was a bull shark, as bull sharks are the only (large) shark that can survive in both salt and fresh water.  Bull sharks are extremely aggressive and have attacked people in rivers as much as the ocean.  So it would stand to reason it was a bull shark.  But there is also solid argument that it was a great white, and Capuzzo does an amazing job of explaining why it is very possible to have been a great white.  The high tide, the unusual shift in currents, full moon, all contributing factors for this "rogue" shark.  The attack scenes were setup with a tense suspense.  The reader, sitting engrossed in this lead up to the inevitable, tensing from the suspense and build up, only to be rocked into terror and shock at the brutality in which Capuzzo describes each attack.  I physically shuddered at one such scene.
  Though I am a lover (and bit obsessed) of the ocean and all that inhabits it, this book made me reticent to ever enter the ocean again.  Of course I will, if I ever perish in the ocean I will consider my soul's return to whence it came.  This quote from the book is touches on my emotional awe, respect and love for the ocean and its denizens: "It was said that the ocean flowed in the veins, that blood was nearly the consistency of seawater.  In the ocean a man escaped the Industrial Revolution and rediscovered his eternal self, was fully human again."  But this book def makes you think twice about swimming in the open ocean, or in its shallows.  It does not paint sharks as mindless killing machines, it does not preach stay out of the ocean.  No, it tells a story of a horrific and tragic event, human's ignorance (of that time) of the wilderness of the ocean and its inhabitants.  It's an intellectual read, a wonderful work of non-fiction that reads like fiction at times.  I can't rec this book enough.  Read it, but do it in the winter time so by the time summer rolls around it won't be lingering in your head and make you trepiditious to enter the ocean. Let me conclude this review with a quote from the book, a quote (one of many) I love:
     "We've forgotten what the ocean is.  The ocean is a wilderness.  We would never enter the wilderness without being aware of the dangers, its predators.  Yet we think of the ocean as our giant backyard swimming pool." ~George Burgess-Ichthyologist~
XXX rating.  Stay Booked! Happy Reading!

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