Excerpt from Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Trapped Under the Sea

One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness

by Neil Swidey

Trapped Under the Sea
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2014, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2015, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt


Things heated up between DJ and Dana once they found themselves alone. Eventually they moved from the couch to the dark kitchen and then, for the crescendo, onto the kitchen counter. Suddenly someone flicked on the overhead light. Dana yelled. DJ turned to see a groggy guy who was clearly startled to find he had produced such drama--or more accurately, interrupted it. That was all the motivation DJ needed to head outside, climb up to the second floor, and crawl through a window. He then let Dana in, and they spent the night together with no further interruptions.

Even as the fun began to wind down on Sunday, DJ had something else to look forward to. While he had been working as a nonunion diver in the Gulf, his hope in returning to Boston was to join Local 56, the union for pile drivers and commercial divers. The pay and benefits were a lot better for union divers, which is why DJ worried it would be hard to break into the local. But just a few days earlier, he'd received instructions from the union hall to show up at the beginning of the week for a job rebuilding a ship terminal in South Boston. In one weekend, everything in his personal and professional life seemed to come together.

Late that afternoon Dana made a call. After she hung up, she mentioned her sister would be coming over.

"Oh," DJ said. "You got a sister?"

"Yes," Dana replied, tilting her head in surprise. "You met her."

DJ racked his brain but couldn't recall meeting her sister. Dana insisted. "You know, Lisa--the blond girl."

The words were a punch to his gut. When Lisa arrived, DJ noticed her flinch as she saw Dana caressing his arm. DJ tried the only move he could think of, a last-minute call for clemency in the form of a pained look shot directly at Lisa. With it, he was wordlessly saying: I had no idea.

Lisa, to his eternal relief, returned a forgiving look.

Later, when her sister was out of the room, Lisa said to him, "I see you and Dana are getting along well."

"Yeah," DJ replied nervously. "Listen, Lisa, I didn't know--"

She cut him off. "You don't have to explain anything. I can tell you didn't know we were sisters."

DJ couldn't have been more relieved. He was attracted to Dana in a way he hadn't felt before, though there were few signs of the role she would come to play in his life.

There was, however, more fallout from his fantasy weekend. All that partying caught up with him to the point where, on his first day of his first union job, he showed up to the worksite late. The supervisor told DJ that if he thought he could just waltz in whenever he felt like it, he should save everybody some time and go find another job. "Don't even think about being late again," the guy barked, "unless you've got a really good story."

DJ flashed an impish grin. "Have I got a story for you!" he said, launching into the tale of his weekend with two sisters. By the end, the supervisor was the one grinning. He let DJ's tardiness slide.


DJ didn't get into it then, but his full life story was just as interesting.

As a kid, he'd lived in eleven states in a dozen years. Tennessee, Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma. He was forever the new kid, the outsider who would never be around long enough to make real friends. In every new town, he carried an unfamiliar accent with inflections from the last stop, setting him up for taunting from the other kids.

His mother, Lorraine, had grown up on a farm near the rocky coastline of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Her father regularly traveled to the States to find work as a carpenter, and at age twenty-one, Lorraine had followed him. In Boston she fell for an Irish construction worker, got pregnant, and eventually gave birth to a boy she named Donald James Gillis, after her two brothers. Soon everyone took to calling him DJ.

After a few years raising DJ alone, Lorraine married a pipe fitter who helped build power plants, specializing in nuclear facilities. She had a son with him, and as he chased work across the country, she followed along with her two young boys. She was fond of her husband but felt that his weakness for alcohol made life a struggle. When he drank his wages, Lorraine had to provide for her sons with the small paychecks she earned working in a series of service jobs: waitress, hospital worker, clerk at a fireworks stand.

Excerpted from Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey. Copyright © 2014 by Neil Swidey. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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