Despite its name, “Surface Tension” contains very little actual tension. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that I included it in my #MandarayReads hashtag on Twitter, I probably would’ve dumped this book half way through. And, to be honest…I wouldn’t have missed much.
Not only does “Surface Tension” hand you the plot (and all of the bad guys behind it) on a silver platter, but there are so many people doing so many stupid, irrational things that it’s hard to care if any of them end up dead. Worse yet, instead of relying on actual events to move the plot forward, Kling instead makes her protagonist (Seychelle) go and do a bunch of ridiculously stupid and reckless things. The book is less Seychelle solving a crime, and more her reacting to a situation with a loud declaration of, “I’m going to go do this crazy-dangerous thing alone! AT NIGHT!” Then wondering why she gets hit over the head so often.
The other thing about this book is that it is BRIMMING with strange, aggravating, unnecessary, and oftentimes offensive descriptors. The most grievous instance of this is near the beginning of the book, when Seychelle’s lawyer friend Jeannie is introduced. Would you like to guess what Jeannie’s central characteristic is? Is it… the fact she’s a sucessfull businesswoman? A kindhearted, wise soul? The mother of three children? The survivor of a lackluster marriage with a dude who treated her poorly? An independent, take-no-nonsense woman?
Nope! It’s that she’s fat.
Kling spends an entire page driving home the fact that Jeannie is overweight. For instance, Seychelle makes sure not to sit on the couch with her because she’s “afraid she’ll be pulled into Jeannie’s lap”. Then, Sey is fixated by the “rolls of fat” which “nearly consume her gold watch” as Jeannie rests her arm on a table. After that, Sey makes a mental comment about Jeannie’s “trademark” muumuus that she wears all of the time. In fact, pretty much any time Jeannie is mentioned in this book–even when she’s just talking to Sey on the phone–Kling takes a moment to let us know that she’s fat.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Seychelle is obssessed with how people look. She comments not only on her own body, (which of course she finds ugly and awkward but everyone else finds extremely attractive! ’cause I haven’t seen enough of THAT trope yet) but the bodies of her dead mother, her friends, and even her brothers. She compares herself to other women constantly in terms of who is more or less attractive; even 15 year olds, one of whom she describes in these terms:
Protagonist just used the term “sex-kitten body” to describe someone. No irony. *cringe* #MandarayReads
— Amanda C. (@Mandaray) January 5, 2014
To make matters worse, Seychelle has seriously weird issues with sex work. Her inner monologues often include speech about how sex workers “dirty” an area or cheapen it, and in her mind there is no difference between prostitution and lap dances. (Yes that is an actual sentence in this book.) Like many, she also assumes that sex workers exist to be pitied, and that they of course absolutely hate their line of work. If only someone could come along and save them! Barf.
And then, during one of Seychelle’s many fight scenes, we have this little gem:
Wait, what? “My attacker looked like a giant Pillsbury Doughboy in blackface”. …what!? #MandarayReads
— Amanda C. (@Mandaray) January 5, 2014
Yup. Go ahead and reread that a few times if you need to. I’ll wait.
Kling also clearly knows her stuff when it comes to boats; (So much so I frequently got the impression she was showing off her nautical knowledge at the expense of the plot.) but despite this, she fails to paint a very clear picture of the Fort Lauderdale community in which this story takes place. Maybe she assumed we’ve all been to Florida, or that talking a bit about neon lights, Haitians, and hookers would be enough? I don’t know. What I do know is it felt like the characters were acting out their dramas on TV set instead of a living, breathing city.
The sad part is, this book seemed so tight in the beginning! There are elements of it which are genuinely good! But they get lost in this weird fog of boring exposition and bizarre descriptors. It’s frustrating. Kling even has a diverse cast…but then doesn’t follow through by fleshing them out in the same way she does the main (white) character.
All in all, my final impression of “Surface Tension” is that it’s 50% boring, 5% good, and 45% a strange, spastic experience which spends too much time exposing the serious issues the author has with certain subsets of society to be any good as a thriller. Unless you are in dire need of nautical jargon and underwater scuba fights…give this one a pass, folks.