Meagan’s coming-of-age story, “The Ocean in my Ears” feels kind of like a tease, which, in this case, is a good thing.
Throughout the story, we follow the narrator, Meri Miller, through her last year of high school, from summer to graduation. Having Meri is the narrator is a good thing because it shows readers the depths of this character. Had Meri not been the narrator, I think she would have come across as a bit of a bitch, one who readers would find unsympathetic. Because we do get Meri’s whole story, we get to see how much crap the poor young woman is actually dealing with, and it creates a rich, complex world defined by poor communication, loneliness, feelings of abandonment, and the delicate sharp edges of existence. Meri then becomes a relatable protagonist who the audience can root for, especially considering that life at this age really is quite difficult for anyone, but specifically for Meri, as most of the situations that she finds herself in are beyond her control. Luckily, she is smart enough (dare I say mature enough) to reach out to those people who could actually help her when she really needs it.
In a reading she did in Olympia, WA, author Meagan Macvie mentioned that she was able to bring a little world wisdom to Meri, maybe give her just enough nudge to push her from being High School girl, to girl with a chance in a challenging life. I think this novel is ultimately saved by the author’s decision to do that. There is a lot of wisdom in “Ocean” – not just pedantic or rote understanding of life, but also the emotional wisdom that comes across in a simple reaction – like to a friend’s lack of reaction to world-changing events, or of a refusal to be talked down to by a man who clearly has no idea what he is talking about.
The final bit of this review is personal, because one thing that this story did well was to bring back my own flight from my hometown. While I never had the driving urge of a salmon (as Meri’s need to escape was brilliantly compared to at one point in the story), a conversation that I had with one of my own high school friends came back to me. It was a question about my own future, of marrying one of the girls in my hometown and settling down there. In looking at the faces of everyone in the small town of Soldotna, Alaska, I saw exactly the same people that I spent my high school years with: those that would leave, those that would never leave, those that would make peace with the simple madness of life there. I also saw myself, the jerk, the unsympathetic protagonist, who only wanted to get out, and whose Ahab-like obsession hindered my inability to see all the glory of my own hometown. Meri, however, was not so blind, and in her own eyes, I could see my own small town upbringing in all the positive light that such wonderful natural beauty and simplicity brought with it.