Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2018 Jul7 11 • Wednesday

Kem Nunn's novel Tapping the Source is somehow the inspiration for the movie Point Break, despite the fact that there are no bank robberies, no cops, no sky diving, no nothing really in common with the movie.

It is, however, an excellent book. I read it as quickly as I could and bought another one of Nunn's novels as soon as I had finished.

The story is multi-faceted. Martin Amis once pointed out that the two stories that are said to be all stories, a stranger comes to town and a person goes on a journey, are actually the same story from different points of view. Tapping the Source begins with a stranger coming to town, which thus impels the main character, a young man named Ike Tucker, to go on a journey which brings him, a stranger, to the surfing town of Huntington Beach.

Raised in the desert by his uncle and knowing nothing except how motorcycles work, Tucker is following in the footsteps of his sister, Ellen. He has the names of three men who he believes have murdered her. She was with them, then she disappeared. That's basically all he knows.

When in Rome... the men in question are surfers so Ike, a scrawny hick from the desert, has to learn to surf.

It sounds clear cut. But the mystery part of it turns out to be not simple or even linear. This is a novel with mystery as part of its DNA, as opposed to a mystery novel. It's not a puzzle with a solution. It's closer to a coming of age story and an exploration of the psychic landscape of adolescence, fear, desire, loss of innocence and acceptance of individual power and responsibility.

The title itself refers to an awareness of the beauty and strength of the natural world and something beyond that, something that escapes verbal summation, a feeling of the energy of life itself running through everything, including yourself. It's a source of, well, possibly everything, including power, and one of the tragedies mapped by the book is how this power can corrupt.

Nunn's writing style is robust yet economic, never overdoing descriptions or overwriting anything for that matter. It's also an extremely shadowy book, the only one I can remember that convincingly imbues pages of writing with the visual style of film noir.

A typically gratifying touch is how Tucker often sees reflections of himself in dark places, calling to mind the famous Biblical passage about seeing through a glass darkly.

The writing feels carefully crafted, never out of control and never missing the mark. The characters are distinct, well drawn and convincing, and their development is sure-footed and perfectly paced. It might as if the story is heading for an obvious and conventional conclusion but the direction it ends up taking is more plausible, more quotidian, sadder and more chilling.

It's a hard book to describe and a very rewarding one to read. You'll probably know pretty quickly after you start whether it's for you. Perhaps that's just like surfing. Tapping the Source makes learning to surf a big part of the book's structure, and finding a good point break a subtle, unobtrusive metaphor. It made me want to learn to surf.