cover image An Ocean without a Shore

An Ocean without a Shore

Scott Spencer. Ecco, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-285162-8

Spencer returns to the characters from River Under the Road in this unsatisfying sequel about unrequited love and betrayal. Kip Woods, a supporting character in River, provides a first-person confession as he awaits sentencing for a criminal conviction. His criminal actions, which are revealed at the end, are motivated by his long-secret love for the now broke but once famous screenwriter Thaddeus Kaufman. Whenever Thaddeus needs Kip to do something for him—buy his land to avoid foreclosure, care for his daughter Emma, or provide Thaddeus with insider stock tips—Kip is eager to help. Spencer makes Kip’s codependent devotion to Thaddeus as palpable as Kip’s struggles with his romantic feelings (“If love is a sinking ship, you do want to go down with it”). The men’s bromantic chats are engaging highlights, especially when Thaddeus toys with Kip by suggesting they hike the Appalachain Trail together (“Just to be two creatures in the great outdoors. I think that would be amazing”), and they show how Kip endures Thaddeus despite his increasingly odious behavior. While the narrative gets disjointed when Spencer shifts away from Kip, such as a depiction of Thaddeus in crisis when his father dies, the climax between the two friends is heartbreaking and explosive. Still, Spencer boxes Kip into a corner that feels disappointingly contrived. (June)