Does anybody remember that 90s movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer? I remember watching it—I was probably in the fifth grade—and I was struck by a revelation at the end. The credits rolled and an important thought crossed my mind: chess was definitely not a game for me. I didn’t have the patience for it. I didn’t have the problem-solving skills for it. I didn’t have the mind or the desire for it. But good for you, Bobby Fischer and Josh Waitzkin for having that kind of sticktoitiveness. Good on you.
It wasn’t until much later that I found out that Searching for Bobby Fischer was a book, written by Fred Waitzkin, about true events in his own son’s life. It was a book rooted in fact, telling the true story of a prodigious boy who made waves in the world of chess. (To be fair, at that time I didn’t even know there was a world of chess. I thought it was just a game you played on your Windows 98 PC when you were tired of Minesweeper and Solitaire.)
Recently, I came into possession of a copy of Fred Waitzkin’s newest book, Deep Water Blues. The jacket copy drew me in immediately and I was more than happy to accept a review copy based on what I read. (Not to mention it’s a beautiful book; look at that cover!)
Charismatic expat Bobby Little built his own funky version of paradise on the remote island of Rum Cay, a place where ambitions sport fishermen docked their yachts for fine French cuisine and crowded the bar to boast of big blue marlin batches while Bobby refilled their cognac on the house. Larger than life, Bobby was really the main attraction: a visionary entrepreneur, master chef, skateboard champ, surfer, even former undercover DEA agent.
But after tragedy shatters the tranquility of Bobby’s marina, tourists stop visiting and simmering jealousies flare among island residents. When a cruel, different kind of self-made entrepreneur challenges Bobby for control of the docks, all hell breaks loose. As the cobalt blue Bahamian waters run red with blood, the man who man Rum Cay his him will be lucky if he gets off the island alive.
When the Ebb Tide cruises four hundred miles southeast from Fort Lauderdale to Rum Cay, its captain finds the Bahamian island he so fondly remembers drastically altered. Shoal covers the marine entrance, the beaches are deserted, and on shore there is a small cemetery with headstones overturned and bones sticking up through the sand. What happened to Bobby’s paradise?”
Something about this copy drew me in. Something about this copy also led me to believe that pirates were going to play a key role in this story (spoiler alert: they don’t.) I read this whole book with eyes peeled, looking for signs of pirates. There were no signs. Nothing pointed to pirates. But I was convinced it was pirates. I’m laughing in the coffee shop as I’m typing this ridiculous confession.
What I did find in this book, however, was this interesting blend of memoir and fact-based storytelling. This book isn’t totally nonfiction, because much of it is Waitzkin’s interpretation of real life events that he was able to glean from interviews with key players. There’s an interesting third-person omniscience to this narrative that is unique for a book rooter so in my fact and memoir. Throughout Waitzkin’s writing, he interjects the motivations and thoughts of the characters in the story, even though they are real people. If I had not read the acknowledgments in the back, I might have thought the story of Rum Cay was completely fabricated; a very good story written by a skilled writer. I would have thought this a work of fiction.
Knowing that this story is a true story, however, gives it a completely different dimension. It tells an exciting story of adventure and deception. It nips at the travel bug in me, the part of me that wants to be board a boat and explore the blue sea. I’ve always loved the idea of being on the water. I’ve never had much of an adventurer’s spirit until it came to the sea. Standing on the deck of a boat, wind and salt water whipping my face. That’s the kind of adventure I’ve always wanted. And this book fed into that perfectly.
I was captivated by both the stories told in this book. Waitzkin alternated between his own story, riding aboard his boat, the Ebb Tide, and the story of Rum Cay, the Bahamian paradise I longed to visit as I read it.
Deep Water Blues is one of those lovely books that has its own ensemble cast of characters, all of whom are intertwined in some way or another. I love when a story can artfully and inexorably link characters. The fact that these were true stories made it all the more artful.
Waitzkin has a gentle poetry to his writing. I was transported to the ocean by his writing. I could see the world; I could smell the ocean water. I could feel the wind on my face. It was transformative. I cannot sing the praises enough for his writing.
As good as this book was, it should come with some serious trigger warnings. There are two big issues that need to be pointed out before jumping into this book. The first is a portrayal of rape. There is nothing graphic, it is more suggestive than anything else, but it still happens and it’s still unsettling. It happens quickly and is over and never discussed again. But it happens and needs to be mentioned
The other is the death of dogs because of poisoning. This was not only rough because of the death of animals, but because it was done brutally by a human being. I was disgusted at the scene; it was more graphic than the aforementioned rape scene.
All in all, I loved my time with Deep Water Blues. Waitzkin transported into shark-infested waters and took me on an adventure. It’s a short read and can easily be enjoyed in an afternoon (if you’re not fighting ADHD like I am today.) I highly recommend it to anybody who loves a good adventure, like memoirs, or loves stories of closely intertwined characters.