Ann Packer’s first novel, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier presents a timeless moral dilemma. Carrie Bell, a recent college graduate in Madison, Wisconsin finds that her love for the man she is engaged to marry is “untangling.”
“A slow draining away of my feelings for him, a trickle I hardly noticed at first until the level was so low it was all I could notice, until what remained was dark and murky and it seemed that in no time at all I’d be bone-dry.”
To try to awaken her feelings, her fiancé, Mike Mayer, tries to impress her by jumping into a lake from a pier. Tragically, he breaks his neck and is paralyzed for the rest of his life.
What does Carrie owe Mike? What obligations does an individual have to the person they love or once loved when love is precisely what they need? Should she stay in Madison or strike out on her own? She struggles with this question for months. (She has a difficult time making up her mind about everything and that’s why I found the novel very slow going at times.) Finally, Carrie leaves Madison without saying a word to any of her friends or Mike who remains paralyzed in the hospital.
"What I had discovered was that I couldn’t give up my life for Mike—that’s how I saw it at the time, that’s the choice I thought I had to make.”
She goes to New York, falls in love again, succumbs to the joys and temptations of being there and finally enrolls in the Parson School of Design to pursue the talent she has for designing and sewing dresses.
Then one day her lifelong female friend from Madison calls to ask her to return to help her through a crisis. Again she vacillates—on and on--but after doing that for far too many pages, she decides to remain in New York.
Eventually, she realizes she has made a mistake, and returns to Madison for a while. However, once she gets back, her friend will no longer speak to her. She resolves to stay until she does, meanwhile spending most of her time with her paralyzed former boy friend, lover and fiancé.
It takes weeks and then months—and again, many pages--before her friend forgives her but by then she has given up on New York, her lover there, and the new path she had begun to carve out for herself.
How disappointing, I thought at first. How much I wanted her to remain in New York and create that new life for herself. But she couldn’t. Loyalty, responsibility and devotion to friends and family came to take hold of her. History exerts a powerful constraint on the future.
And so the novel presents that ever present issue, one that is never resolved without regret one way or another. The mystery of how the moral question is resolved maintained my interest in the novel. What are we to do when we are faced with this kind of a dilemma? Do we abandon our lover who is no longer the person he once was? Or do we abandon our self, what we know we must do when a person we love stands in need? By the time the book is over, Ms. Packer has provided an answer. Is it the one you would have made?