Five Fathoms Beneath by J.R. Alcyone

Alexandros Serafeim is a celebrated pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon in Perth, Australia, the land down under. He is entrenched firmly at the pinnacle of his hospital’s staff and quite literally saves lives on a regular basis.

To his only son, Ambrose, he is a god. Someone to be admired and emulated, right down to the boy’s choice of professions as he grows up.

Indeed, becoming a renowned surgeon, just like his dad — and his grandfather before him — seems to be a given for ‘Brose as he excels in medical school, following the prescribed clinical track right on schedule. But an unfortunate accident leaves him with a mangled hand and robs him of a career of his own in the rarified world of pediatric surgery. So he settles for just becoming a cardiologist.

In a way, it’s a relief for Ambrose. It means that he will finally be spared the crushing responsibility of living up to his family’s stratospheric and unrelenting expectations.

Then, the unthinkable happens and ‘Brose is thrust headlong into a future he never saw coming. And it’s one he fears he won’t survive.

Five Fathoms Beneath is a superb piece of storytelling on a level with the best of John Irving. A richly layered novel that delves deeply into what it means to be the only child of a devoted mother and an impossibly gifted father, the writing is lyrical — achingly so in places — and the characterization is spot on, allowing each player to make the very most of his or her role in the drama as it unfolds.

And unfold it does, suddenly and viscerally, bending the reader over emotionally with a story-altering development midway through. Other reviewers may choose to disclose this sea change in the book’s progression. We will, rather, leave it for discovery by readers of this desperately important work of fiction and say only this:

There is a vital understory here that reemphasizes the ongoing need even today, almost a quarter way through the otherwise enlightened 21st century, to recognize mental disorders for what they are: chemical imbalances that can change one’s very soul and impel life-altering decisions in a nanosecond.

The black dog of depression is no respecter of age, race, gender or profession. It deals out its debilitating consequences with little regard to whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a brilliant medical professional.

This is the story of one man’s determined quest to outdistance these dark demons that are sometimes laid down in our DNA, genetically impossible to ignore and often influencing our every waking thought.

It’s the story of Dr. Ambrose Serafeim’s all-too-human reactions to the hand he is dealt — and a spirit-crushing hand it is. But it’s also a story about never giving up, even when it seems the very stars of fate and circumstance are aligned to defeat us.

We especially want to acknowledge the exquisite writing that carries this novel forward so seamlessly by a remarkable first-time author. Here is a pivotal passage that provides a small sample of her sure-handed literary voice:

“We shared a quiet moment surrounded by the infinite splendor of the
mighty Indian Ocean as the omnipresent coastal wind scoured the air
clean and tickled the beach grass, and the relentless waves splashed
against the rocks. Then, with the future but a nebulous concept and
nothing more than a tiny spark on a faraway and yet unseen horizon, I
nodded with emphasis and began my life’s journey with not a step, but a
solemn promise. ‘Someday, I will do good,’ I said. ‘Someday, I will toss starfish like my father.’”

We award our very highest rating of five-plus stars to this singular story of how despair sometimes, against all odds, weathers the very worst that life can throw our way. And how perseverance, hope and steadfast love can bring us safely home at last.

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