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Review: The Tidal Zone - Sarah Moss

Genre: Literary fiction Published: Granta, July 2016 My Rating: 5/5 stars All-time favorite

“Suddenly, you will stop, you and me and all of us. Your lungs will rest at last and the electric pulse in your pulse will vanish into the darkness from which it came. Put your fingers in your ears, lay your head on the pillow, listen to the footsteps of your blood. You are alive.”

There is a universal truth, we all know to be true, but can’t quite fathom in all its gravity: life is frail and we are always just one breath away from disaster. All of us. That man you just crossed on the street, your loved ones, you yourself… I’ve probably depressed or unsettled you a little by just stating this. Which is why it’s a good thing that our minds are so adept at suppressing this knowledge, so we can live our everyday lives without worry. Despite the fact that we rationally know it, and we think we understand, we simply can’t until we experience it close to home. It’s a brilliant protection mechanism, yet simple as a child covering their eyes to hide themselves: if I don’t see, it’s not there. For many people, however, there comes a time when this fundamental bubble of safety is burst wide open: the moment we come face to face with the loss of our own life, or that of a loved one. The Tidal Zone explores the aftermath of such an event. An event that will send ripples throughout the lives of the people involved, far passed what outsiders will see.

What began as any other day ends in a parent’s worst nightmare for protagonist Adam, when his 15-year old daughter collapses and stops breathing while at school, for no apparent reason. Her condition is known as idiopathic anaphylaxis: a severe and potentially deadly allergic reaction to an unknown stimulus. In other words: the doctors don’t exactly know what causes it, and therefore cannot tell them whether this will happen again or not. Despite the fact that Miriam survives without any physical damage, the ordeal leaves a mark on the entire family. The aforementioned bubble of presumed safety is shattered, and they realize that life is not something they can take for granted. Each family member has their own way of dealing with this realization. Denial, worry, overprotectiveness, the desire to take back your own control, and all the conflicts that arise between those different responses. The push and pull of a family torn apart by this event and being united by the same thing are at the core of this novel. Despite these heavy themes, there is (just like in real life) room for the lightness of ordinary life, teenage sass (Miriam is the best at that!) and heartfelt family moments, to make you feel like you are a fly on the wall of a real family, going through these events.

And there are many of those families out there. Families who not only have to deal with the trauma itself, but also with the judgement of people around them. I’ve seen that same judgement in some of the reviews for this book, calling it “a book about overprotective parenting”. Going as far as saying “how long can you milk an even that didn’t even happen”. To all of those people I say: you’ve missed the point. I don’t blame you: you probably have not been in this situation and I’m happy for that. This is not a novel about “overprotective parenting” or “exaggerated mundane fears”. It’s a novel about living past a paradigm-shattering event, that seeps into everyday life that follows, and much more. Written by an incredibly eloquent and compassionate author, I hope this novel will mean a lot to anyone who relates to the themes discussed here, and might inspire some of that same compassion into others.

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