One striking feature of “Shark Heart,” by Emily Habeck, is the beautiful cover art of a graceful shark painted in flowers, gliding through underwater plant life, and gazing upwards. But the most striking feature of the novel is the story itself in which the reader will have to suspend disbelief and treasure this love story.
Lewis and Wren meet in their 30s after years of dating disappointments. It is love at first sight, and they enjoy 6 weeks of married bliss. Things take a turn for the worse one morning when Lewis notices that the bones in his nose have become soft cartilage. A visit to the doctor confirms that he has a mutation known as “animal dementia.” Within months, he will transform into a great white shark.
It is 2016, and animal mutations are rare, but not so rare that medical specialists, clinics, and support groups haven’t sprung up throughout the world. Whole areas of land have been cordoned off to contain humans who have mutated into zebras, Komodo dragons, horses, etc.
Lewis’s change is occurring unusually quickly. He loses his own teeth and begins growing rows of shark teeth. He craves gallons of water. His skin becomes like sandpaper. He is more irritable. When Lewis’s legs begin the process of agglutination (his legs are fusing together), pain forces him into a wheelchair. He is asked to resign from his job as a high school drama teacher.
Wren’s life story, a major part of the novel, is told in flashbacks. Her childhood was challenging, but her experiences lead her to be a great support for Lewis.
Wren learns to snorkel in hopes of being able to be with Lewis occasionally once she releases him into the ocean. She purchases a large above-ground pool to keep him with her as long as she can. She buys massive amounts of fresh seafood in grocery stores to satisfy Lewis’s constant need to eat.
Wren’s dream in elementary school was to have a “medium size life.” She never liked surprises. It was her stoic, unsentimental, methodical, and quiet characteristics that drew Lewis to her. She, in turn, loved his zest for life and his adventurous spirit. Their disparate personalities afford them the strength to face their trial.
This novel is speculative fiction in which genres are mixed. There is a fantasy, but the story contains enough reality to make it believable. It is a credit to the author that she could blend a bizarre presupposition with enough realism so that readers won’t question the plot.
Readers will be sympathetic to Wren and Lewis’ plight and relish their love story. Humans may not turn into animals in our world, but bodies change as old age or illness wreak havoc on once strong physiques. It takes a love like Lewis and Wren share to accept and live with difficult life changes. How lucky are those who have someone to support them in these inevitable transitions.
“Shark Heart” is Emily Habeck's debut novel. This is likely going to be her first, but not only, best seller.