In his debut novel, Beneath the Dune, author Walter Ramsay has a nice sense of location, in both of his coastal settings, New Jersey and Florida. But the book does read like a first novel, trying to cram in too many things in too many voices.
The hero Tucker Lee Anderson is written in the first person, in a slangy, conversational style. Maybe Ramsay wished he was writing for a film noir detective of the ‘40s, but it really didn’t work for me. Tucker, a sports reporter who is given his first local crime case to cover, is a forty-something who can’t stop thinking about his days playing basketball and his “bitch” ex-wife. He whines and complains a lot in his inner monologues — if that’s how our private thoughts would all sound on paper — yikes:
“I can’t believe she busts my chops about child support, I thought. I really don’t mind supporting my kids, but damn, she remarried well. I bet my child support goes to pay the household staff rather than my kids.”
It may be realistic to write him that way, but after a while it wore me down, with one complaint after another. He’s no one I would like to meet, or would like, and it’s hard to follow him through the story. When Tucker’s not complaining, he’s going on and on about his glory days, or just thinking out loud about himself. A lot:
“At this point on my life I should have been farther along in my career, if that’s what you want to call it. Life in general has still been good to me. I mean, I still look good for my age — at least so I’m told by the bar flies I meet once in a while — and I still take pretty good care of myself too.”
And he wonders why he’s divorced.
Interspersed with Tucker’s misogynistic ramblings is a murder mystery and a ghost story, both told in the third person, with a completely different tone from Tucker’s smart-alecky delivery.
Ramsay is ambitious to try to combine a story involving a past murder with a present one — and to have his reporter-hero try to piece it all together. The plot elements in Beneath the Dune are good: a man communicating with a dead ancestor, Seminole Indians, New Jersey, a Civil War era romance, a murder mystery. The disparate parts just never did quite come together. I preferred the past/dream sequences to Tucker’s endless monologues.
Beneath the Dune has hints of promise, but the secrets that are revealed to Tucker are far more interesting than the man himself. I’d rather Ramsay had told his story set in the past, from the past.