Because it is a page-turner, Maile Meloy’s “Do Not Become Alarmed” is the sort of novel often recommended to beach goers. This makes sense, because people on beaches need novels that distract them from the ever-present threat of sharks, the maddening bites of sand fleas and the absurd slow-motion jogging of lifeguards. What else, but an utterly absorbing novel, could make time spent on a beautiful beach endurable?
Unfortunately for beach goers who choose “Do Not Become Alarmed” as their distraction from their sandy reprieve from reality, the novel is set during a traumatic vacation. Fortunately for those readers, it is the sort of gripping read that will make them forget all about the hungry horrors lurking beyond the water’s edge.
The premise is as relatable as it is terrifying: two wealthy couples and their children go on a cruise. When the boat stops to allow its occupants to step ashore for a little local color, the men play golf, and the women and children plan to zipline. The golf game goes on without a hitch. Unfortunately, the van full of prospective zipliners wrecks, and so, with their plan to go hurtling through the jungle waylaid, the women, children, and guide head to a beach for a little sun and swimming.
This decision proves fateful: one mom falls asleep, another heads into the jungle to “look at birds” and “be seduced” by their guide. And the tide sucks the children down a river and deep into the jungle. It is at this point that the beach reader should hope they’ve brought a comfortable towel, because the book will now be difficult to put down.
The book switches viewpoints frenetically, from terrified parent to terrified child, everybody gets a turn. We watch as one child chooses to swim against the tide, trying to return to the moms. We watch as a portion of the riverbank on which the children wait for rescue turns out to be a large gator. We watch as the children encounter some drug smugglers digging a grave. We watch as the parents yell at cops and try not to let their devastation consume them.
Vacationers should be warned: terrible things happen in this novel, but if you are looking for a ripping yarn to distract you from sunshine and fun, this book is just the ticket.