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End of the Ocean


End of the Ocean

As I slip ever more deeply into my golden years, I find that I much prefer stories that take me to places I have never been --- where things happen that are impossible, page by page, to predict. Such books are becoming increasingly difficult to consistently find, which is what makes END OF THE OCEAN, Matthew McBride’s latest novel, such a pleasure.

Most of the book takes place in Bali, an Indonesian island known for its scenery, bars and yoga retreats. END OF THE OCEAN almost immediately introduces the reader to Sage, an American who is the primary focus of the story. Sage, post-divorce, has made what appears to be an ill-advised decision to take what money he has left and travel to Bali, where he has never been, and hang out until he has exhausted his financial wherewithal, at which point he intends to return home. It’s an impulsive action, but certainly one that is not unheard of. McBride’s talent in describing his protagonist is such that the reader is almost immediately put in the mind of a friend or classmate who has done the same thing, with more or less disastrous results.

"Each and all of McBride’s novels defy their own expectations.... Come for the caper and stay for the story."

For Sage, it is a mixed bag at first. He is unfamiliar with the language, currency and customs of Bali, and his fish-out-of-water state of mind goes a long way towards creating a narrative where the reader has absolutely no idea what will occur next. What occurs next for Sage is that he is gobsmacked when he succumbs to the beauty and allure of Bali in general and a young woman named Ratri in particular. Ratri is just what the doctor ordered in terms of healing Sage’s broken heart. His problem is that he is rapidly running out of money.

Sage’s point of view alternates with that of the members of a group of drug smugglers. They include a quiet, dedicated family man who is engaging in this trade to give his family monetary support; a surf bum for whom the narcotics industry provides the funds to fuel the hedonistic lifestyle to which he aspires; a “horse” who does the heavy lifting in terms of smuggling the illegal drugs into the country; and, most significantly, an enigmatic Australian with the improbable name of Wayne Tender who, interestingly enough, meets and engages Sage in conversation on the plane ride from the United States to Indonesia.

The manner and method of drug smuggling described in END OF THE OCEAN is set against the backdrop of Indonesia’s draconian drug laws, which, among other things, impose the death penalty for drug trafficking. It is seemingly inevitable that Sage’s path will cross with Wayne on the small island, and indeed it does. Sage needs money to stay in Bali with Ratri just as Wayne needs a new mule to smuggle some diamonds onto the island. By no means is Sage a criminal, but he is desperate. Love and desperation are prime motivators, and Sage has plenty of both. Things can go wrong, however, and they do, even while McBride is quietly waiting to yank the rug out from under the feet of his unsuspecting readers by story’s end.

Each and all of McBride’s novels defy their own expectations. While there is a bit of (expected) violence in his latest, there is not much at all. Instead, he relies on the exotic flora and fauna of Bali to carry the story, with some edge-of-the-seat descriptions of drug smuggling to carry things along. Additionally, anyone who has ever been to an unfamiliar place and felt as if they were in the middle of a game where the rules kept changing will find much to love in END OF THE OCEAN, where the uninitiated Sage is gently (and occasionally roughly) buffeted from pillar to post with little understanding of what is occurring. Come for the caper and stay for the story.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 21, 2019

End of the Ocean
by Matthew McBride

  • Publication Date: June 11, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Polis Books
  • ISBN-10: 1947993550
  • ISBN-13: 9781947993556