The story of Surfacing covers nine days that the four younger people—the narrator, Joe, Anna, and David—spend on the island that had been the narrator’s childhood home and several more days when she is there alone. Though the unnamed narrator is attempting to find explanations for her father’s mysterious disappearance, the others treat it more as a vacation, filming quaint Quebec oddities during the trip and their own outdoorsy exploits on the island. They expect the narrator to entertain them by taking them fishing and blueberry picking.
The detective-novel feel of the early part of the novel is emphasized as the group hunts for traces of the narrator’s father on the island and as the narrator searches the cabin for something that might indicate his whereabouts. The past gradually comes into sharper focus for the narrator as she finds things in the cabin that trigger memories of her childhood and her young adult years. Memories of her wedding and her child are juxtaposed with memories of her school years and images from drawings she produced as a child that her mother kept in scrapbooks.
After finding childlike drawings of strange animals and figures among her father’s papers, the narrator concludes that he must have gone crazy as he spent another winter alone in the isolated cabin. She fears that he is alive on the island and a danger to her friends. The forced intimacy on the island is also proving dangerous, as David and Anna bicker and insult each other while Joe broods silently.
Digging further into her father’s papers, while the others try to amuse themselves with reading old paperbacks from the cabin or working on a film called “Random Samples,” the narrator comes across letters from an archaeologist to her father. Apparently, the odd drawings were not indications of her father’s madness but sketches of ancient Indian rock paintings from around the area....
(The entire section is 787 words.)