At the height of his career, neurosurgeon Jack Scales has purchased a top-of-the-line craft, Slow Dance, his plan to sail from Connecticut to Bermuda with wife Arlen, daughter Haley and son Ric. The death of an old sailor the night of the voyage is disturbing, but not enough to cause Jack much concern, practical man that he is. Though not a seasoned sailor, Jack expects his state-of-the-art vessel to provide the technology he lacks, greatly underestimating the unpredictability of the sea.
An electrical storm soon puts the voyagers on notice that nature is not to be tampered with, Arlen, below deck, unable to keep random objects from flying all over a too-wide salon. A schizophrenic whose disease is worsening, Ric listens intently to the voices in his head, especially after his medication is washed away by the saltwater that flows through the cabins. Head down against the storm, competitive swimmer Haley just wants this nightmare to be over, all of them battered by a relentless storm and a realization of how tentative the bonds of family have become.
Halfway to Bermuda and much the worse for wear, a fatal mistake puts an end to this star-crossed vacation: Jack picks up a man floating on a raft at sea, this stranger only the beginning of a hell laced with violence beyond that of the waters, the savage actions of hardened men who kill with impunity. The great battle between man and nature becomes a different kind of fight for survival, one in which Jack realizes the limitations of his authority or his power to protect his family. The fancy craft’s electronics knocked out by nature’s fury, neither Jack’s bank account nor his skills in the operating room offer any cachet in this company.
One could make an argument for the metaphor of chaos versus order, certainly in the first half of the book, when the storm and the vessel’s imperfections dominate Jack’s attempts to cope with his environment. But the extremity of the violence mitigates for a simpler explanation. If you venture too far from the security of a carefully constructed life, there are plenty of bad actors in the world to turn your bravery into jelly, a man and his family expendable in the pursuit of profit: “If the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, so is the Kingdom of Hell.”
I have given some thought to Jack’s obvious lack of preparedness for this venture, surrounded as he is by those with more experience. But perhaps this wealthy, accomplished man would brook no opposition to his plans. Certainly his family is intimidated into agreeing, like it or not - even Ric, who is at great risk given his mental state. Then there are the few “sightings” of the dead man that lead one to question whether this is mystery or horror. The sea is relentless, storms, lightning, a shark that shadows Slow Dance. But it is man who brings the snake into this already fragile Garden of Eden. No good deed goes unpunished, to the horror of this Connecticut family.