Roy Blount, Jr., writes that Geoffrey Norman has given the reader “a new kind of Gatsby and a Vietnamized Nick Carraway who shoots.” Indeed, Ed Fitzgerald, the “Gatsby” of Midnight Water—Norman’s first novel—believes that anything is possible if one works hard enough, and that any means to achieve an end is legitimate. Dan Carpenter, the “Nick Carraway” of the story, is unsure at first what Fitzgerald’s aims are, exactly how ruthless he can be. Carpenter pieces together Fitzgerald’s life story, simultaneously solving the mystery of a missing boat and several murders. Norman’s story is, then, one of progressive revelation, his focus two men who have come to Florida on disparate quests.
Westin, Florida, is Dan Carpenter’s rallying point. He grew up in Westin and has not been back for five or six years. Now recently divorced, he wants to “start peeling back, layer by layer . . . to clean white bone.” His wife, the reader learns through Carpenter’s brief flashbacks, was not satisfied with their relationship. She talked about their marriage as if it were some “shiftless third party.” Carpenter wants to get away from abstractions, intangibles. He seeks out old friends, hopes to fit back into the relaxed pace. Things are different in Florida, he notes. There are beach bums, rumrunners, smugglers; people work when they feel like it. He reminds himself that he will have to get used to this new sense of time. Formerly a political consultant, Carpenter is hoping to become a photographer. He wants only enough money to get by. Norman shows him rediscovering old pastimes—swimming, fishing, hunting. In fact, the mystery which Carpenter solves forces him to put these old skills to use, brings his life into focus.
Ed Fitzgerald, a drug smuggler, hopes eventually to buy his way into the world of big-time filmmaking. Through a writer, Avery Olson, and Anne Lurton, Fitzgerald’s former girlfriend, as well as through his own observation, Carpenter learns Fitzgerald’s history. Fitzgerald left Ohio with Anne because he was bored. They traveled cross-country, ending up in Los Angeles, where Fitzgerald enrolled in a U.C.L.A. film class. He worked harder than anyone else in the class, studied films, wrote them, but never could get any of them produced. Finally, he was given the opportunity to write the script for a Western, but the director, a lame old man with a paunch, told him his script was unworkable. Anne was hoping that Fitzgerald would give up, but after a trip to Mexico, he began thinking of himself as the “Walt Whitman of film.” He decided that he would make films of outlaws and began hanging around dangerous people—gamblers, pimps, drug dealers. When Anne became disgusted, threatening to leave, he said they would go to Florida.
While Carpenter hopes to fit into the rhythm of the Florida landscape, Fitzgerald wants to control it. He sees the Caribbean as the “caldron of the world,” where several Vietnams will be going on, and he wants to control the action. He wants to command men as Lafitte once did, to be a pirate, to make a fortune. All one needs, he says, is “a big fast boat and a few guys who [know] what they [are] doing and [do not] mind hanging their asses out.” Once he is rich, Fitzgerald says, he will go back to Hollywood and buy out a few film companies. It does not matter that the money he will use is “dirty.” He believes that most of the great fortunes have been built on dubious enterprises.
Fitzgerald has blond hair, a well-developed physique, and perfect teeth. While in Alaska, he saw the aurora lights, heard the cry of the loon, and decided that the universe was run by some sort of mad god. Since then, he has identified with this god, interpreting near brushes with death as a sign of his immortality. Carpenter, on the other hand, was hit by shrapnel in Vietnam. He did not know how badly he was hurt for a few seconds, but within that time he realized that he was vulnerable, that he could die like any other man, that he was “nothing special.” He repeats this idea to himself over and over again—that he is nothing special. After the war, when he could not...
(The entire section is 1703 words.)