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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
The Spearfisherman by Ric Szabo is set in Australia and is about a college student named Steve Chambers. The book begins with Steve reminiscing over his past before shifting to the day his father drops him off at the type of university that drips in collegiate gothic architecture. Steve settles in with little effort, except for minor infractions and hard-learned lessons, like putting his foot in his mouth over someone's sister and getting abandoned on the side of a deserted stretch of road. Steve establishes meaningful friendships, particularly with Jason Keogh, whose success with the ladies has Steve introduced to Natalie. He's initially disinterested in Nat but in getting to know her, things change. Casual becomes routine and routine becomes exclusive pretty rapidly. Nat is a caring soul and when a rumor of sexual assault circulates, she gets involved and pulls Steve in with her. Between Steve's robust social and study life, he turns sleuth for Nat when the stories become a trend. Sadly, it will not be the last time Steve is forced to play detective, and the twist that grabs hold as the story heads to its finale is equal parts unexpected and heart-breaking.
The first thing that Ric Szabo taught me in The Spearfisherman is that there are actually young men out there who are so dumb that they open their mouths and utter things to their girlfriends like, “You could shed a little lard in certain places.” The testament to Szabo's skill of character development here is that I still liked Steve after this. I went into this book expecting a straightforward young adult coming of age story, but was pleasantly surprised to discover it was one-hundred percent literary fiction. It is a slow burn and unlike Steve's declaration that “Making friends was as easy as knocking on someone’s door,” getting into Steve's story and making friends with him as a character took slightly longer for me. There are some standout elements that literary fiction readers will like. The dialogue is pitch-perfect, witty, and extremely authentic. The layers within the text work as emotional filters and in a character-driven story without a clearly ascribable plot, this is executed perfectly. There are elements that readers who go in hoping for a young adult novel will not like at all, but I do think the weeding out will happen organically...and then the literary folk can come in and grab the grand prize: a happy ending in a hailstorm of painful growth. Recommended.