Former Newport Beach resident Adelaide MacKenzie Fuss’ debut novel “The Water Men” is an excellent read and, like the ocean, encompasses a mix of fragility and danger. I found myself caught up immediately in Fuss’ writing, like a strong current that I was happy to in.
“The Water Men” is set in Newport Beach and follows Shawn McGuire, who has recently retired at the age of 36 after selling his internationally successful window tinting business for $44 million. McGuire may be done working for a living, but he now must work at learning to live. He feels a strong pull to return to the beach with his financial coffers overflowing but a lingering inner emptiness that money cannot fix. Shawn’s re-entry into the ocean and surfing daily parallels his re-entry into his Newport childhood and his search for what may be missing.
Fuss has a gift for capturing the beauty that Newport Beach and the Pacific Ocean possess – the way the sand sparkles in the wind and sun, the cool water, marine life, the changing views of Catalina. She also weaves in the reminder of the strength and dangers the ocean can unleash. Fuss’ characters encompass a similar beauty, strength, and danger.
After graduating in the ’80s from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, Fuss went on to be an accomplished playwright. Her work has been produced and commissioned by London’s Royal Court, New York’s Public Theater, and The Mark Taper Forum. Now, with “The Water Men,” Fuss makes a strong mark in the literary world as well.
Fuss lives with her husband and three kids in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She shared with me much of the backstory of the writing of “The Water Men.”
Q: What made you decide to set your first novel in your hometown of Newport Beach?
A: I grew up in Newport Beach and my memories of it are beautiful. I spent my summers swimming at Big Corona and 15th Street. I hung out at the Fun Zone on Sunday mornings with my family. As a kid I rode my bike down to the Back Bay and explored that area to no end. When I think of my childhood I don’t think of people as much as I think of the ocean and the Bay and the long blue sky at twilight. I think of dolphins and sea anemones. I also really loved Laguna Beach and spent a great deal of time there.
I also loved to go to Newport Harbor with my dad when I was little. We would sit on a bench in the late afternoon and watch sailboats move out of the harbor. It was a time of silence and reverie -the ocean. They are the best and most real memories I have of my father. Silently watching the ocean together. Knowing that we are small and the Pacific is everything. Large. Grand and everlasting.
Q: The importance of having a purpose seems to be a strong theme throughout “The Water Men.”
A: The main character earns his life’s income in a short period of time. But he finds that money isn’t enough. And once you have helped yourself you have to help others. It is the only cure for a deep nagging emptiness inside of him. He extends himself to the people surrounding him – his mom, his neighbors, and an animal. Probably, at the end of the day and the end of our lives that is the only work that matters in our lives – the work we do to help another.
Q: How did you get all the details accurate about surfing and the ocean and riptides? What type of research did you do for “The Water Men”
A: I love the ocean and have been boogie-boarding, body surfing since I was little. My husband and I rented an oceanfront beach shack on the Peninsula in Newport and put our kids in school at Newport Elementary for one school year. Every day after I got them off to school my husband and I went surfing for about two hours. I also took lessons from a very good former pro surfer, Tom. I got all my stuff at TK’s Frog House. Super great winter wet suit and a 6-7 fun board called Lady Blue. (I broke a toe and a collar bone wiping out at 19th street too!) But I got into the water every day. Made lots of friends living on the beach – knew all the lifeguards. Got to be good friends with an old local, Joe Cleary. He knew every single lifeguard and introduced me to them. I talked to a lot of them. I already knew a lot about tides, currents just growing up in the water.
Q: Does water play a healing role in your own life. Are you a “water woman”?
A: I think getting in water, being around water can cure a lot of things – especially craziness, neurosis, circular thinking. I swim regularly or I get nutty. I am not the only one. I live in landlocked South Dakota and I swim on a team with unbelievable swimmers (a former Olympian, professional swim coach, doctors, triathletes) they all have the water addiction. Water allows me to be quiet and hear my heart beat. It’s a primitive activity. Very healing.
Q: Will there always be a piece of you that longs for the beach, the ocean, the salty air?
A: Right now I live in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. They are forested and lush. Many creeks and lakes. Skiing. But in my heart I will always belong to the Pacific Ocean and the land around Newport and Laguna. The constant sun. The dry hills with sage and prickly pear. Palm trees bending in the hot Santa Ana winds. The hot windy October days before Halloween.
In my mind’s eye I am always standing under the only big old tree at the Wedge. On one side surfers are riding the water hard – watching for their lives. On the other side big sailboats are leaving Newport Harbor. I can look south and see the beach of my childhood, Corona del Mar.
I have physically left Newport but my heart is still there. When I smell salty air by the small ponds here I have to turn away fast or I will cry because it reminds me that I am too far from home.
I miss Newport. It is a longing. I belong near the Pacific. Nothing will ever change that.
“The Water Men” is available through the author’s website: www.AdelaideMackenzieFuss.com. The soft back is 9.99 and the e-book is 1.99 It is also available only as an e-book through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, I pad, Sony.