Dash in the Blue Pacific, by Cole Alpaugh: A Guy from Vermont Versus a Volcano

dashA guy from Vermont crashes in a tropical paradise ruled by angry gods. It’s a long way home.

Dash in the Blue Pacific (5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-252-8, 256 pp., $14.95) is Cole Alpaugh’s fourth novel. A lone survivor of a plane crash in the South Pacific is held captive by a tribe of shabby natives. As he heals, Dash learns what it truly means to belong to the human race.

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As in Alpaugh’s first two novels, Dash in the Blue Pacific contains elements of magical realism.

Alpaugh’s third novel, The Spy’s Little Zonbi, and his second, The Turtle-Girl from East Pukapuka, were finalists in the 2014 and 2013 Foreword Book of the Year Awards, respectively. Alpaugh’s first book, The Bear in a Muddy Tutu, set in a ragtag traveling circus, garnered eleven five-star reviews on WorldCat.

“The weird parts work because Alpaugh integrates them into a story that is physically raw and wickedly funny. Dash is as incredulous about all that is happening as anyone, and his self-conscious skepticism keeps the magical elements from seeming off-the-wall. Little by little, Dash’s conversations with Willy reveal Dash’s deeper emotional wounds, and offer another interpretation for his dreamlike visions. Taken simply as a comic adventure story, Dash in the Blue Pacific is thoroughly entertaining. When you consider the other elements—racial tensions, human grief, and spiritual redemption—it takes on new levels of meaning. Book clubs will be talking about this one.”  Read more….

—Sheila M. Trask, ForeWord Magazine

“Cole Alpaugh is a grand comedian, and the conflicts and themes which exist in uncharted territory for traditional novels work well with his droll craft. The novel is full of magical wonders, melancholic gods, invasive spiders, and hilarious blunders from both Dash and the natives. ‘Boring’ and ‘predictable’ would be the last two words you’d use to describe Alpaugh’s novel.” Read more….

— D. A. Wetherell, Necessary Fiction

“Cole Alpaugh provides another fascinating read with Dash in the Blue Pacific. A young man is the lone survivor of a harrowing plane crash. His life to date has been a series of hard luck events, and now he is facing the prospect of human sacrifice if he cannot impregnate a local in order to bribe slave traders. This is why I read Alpaugh’s books! I was reminded of Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast, with its beautiful descriptions of brutal nature, and the impending sense of doom. I am also reminded of the relationship between the main characters of Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. My head was spinning as I came to the end of this book, and I was also in tears. The despondent god Dash befriends is a wonderfully constructed character who challenges the reader’s belief system. This is a relatively quick story, although with its many levels, it begs to be read more than once. Dash in the Blue Pacific is laugh-out-loud funny as much as it is raw and disturbing. Even though I’ve compared this book to two others, it is truly a one-of-a-kind literary experience. I highly recommend it for book club reading.”

—Jennifer Wong, Toronto Public Library

Dash does not feel lucky. When his plane crashes in the South Pacific on a honeymoon flight to Sydney, Australia, he is already a broken man, having left his cheating fiancée at home in Vermont. Dash is the crash’s only survivor, and the natives who find his battered body blame him for poisoning their fish with spilled jet fuel. Once he has sufficiently recovered, they plan to offer him as a human sacrifice to their Volcano God, who they believe downed his plane and cursed them with drought and hardship.

While Dash awaits his fate, he abandons all hope of rescue. But his new life has its moments. He meets ten-year-old Tiki, daughter of the chief and an innocent who dreams of being “chosen” by the soldiers who occasionally visit their island. He also conjures up an imaginary friend, Weeleekonawahulahoopa—Willy, for short. Willy is half-man, half-fish, a sometime god who resigned his lofty status after failing to save his people from drowning.

As Dash comes to understand the natives who hold him captive and confront his own unhappy past, he suspects that he might not be so unlucky after all.

Says Alpaugh, “This has been my favorite story to write—a little quirky and a little dark. The main (human) character is a well-meaning, ordinary guy whose plane crashes into what seems to be a tropical paradise. I drew on my experience as a total outsider while working overseas, where fear and uncertainty heighten senses and can lead you to make bad decisions. Dash’s journey toward atonement is eased by fellow travelers he meets along the way. A big chunk of this story came together while I was standing on a section of lava very similar to the one described in the book. Ka Lae, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is the southern-most tip of America, on the most remote island chain on the planet. I wanted to capture the feeling of finding hope while looking out at thousands of miles of vast nothingness.”

Cole Alpaugh is a former journalist, having worked at daily newspapers along the East Coast, as well as spending several years as a war correspondent in numerous hot-spots around the world for Manhattan-based news agencies. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, as well as most newspapers in America. Cole is currently a freelance photographer and writer living in Northeast Pennsylvania, where he spends his afternoons watching his daughter hit fuzzy yellow balls and ski through slalom gates. Click here to find him online.

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Keep reading for an excerpt:

The girl’s large brown eyes found him, and he was embarrassed about his drooping underwear and what she must have witnessed.

“Food’s not ready.” She tossed the stick and wiped away her artwork. “I came early. Men are drinking clap-clap and are all piss and wind.”

“My name is Dash. The women said you’d come.”

“I’m Tiki. You looking for your airplane?”

“I don’t know what I’m looking for, but it’s beautiful here. This is an island?”

The girl nodded.

“I’m sorry the airplane killed your fish. I was only a passenger.”

“Not your fault. Manu says the Volcano was angry. She threw a stone and made your airplane fall. There’s another.” She pointed past him, and he turned to look up at shiny hints of distant metal, long contrails beginning to twist apart at their far ends.

He made old man sounds when he dropped onto a mound of hardened lava, knees popping. “Did anyone else survive?”

She shook her head. “You’re the only one. Fish ate what the Sea God didn’t want.”

“The volcano erupted?”

“Just one stone.” She used her thumb to indicate the barren mountain rising from the center of the island, a soaring brown monolith producing a ribbon of white smoke.

“I’ve only seen volcanoes on television.”

She leaned toward him to whisper, “She has a bad temper.”

“It’s incredible,” he whispered back. “I guess the smoke means it really is active. That it’s alive.”

She tilted her head at him. “How else would she throw stones?”

“Right,” he said, reasonably sure the engines had been starved of fuel, or died from a catastrophic failure of a bad wiring job. Or terrorists. “I guess that makes sense.”

“People who hunted for your airplane pieces said we should move far away. They said the Volcano will kill our village soon. Manu told them people can’t hide from a god. God want to eat you, then you will get eaten no matter what island you go to. Manu said those people had nice clothes and fancy boat, but were dumb as shitter bugs.” She wrinkled her nose. “Ever see what a shitter bug does?”

He shook his head. “Has it been smoking like that for a long time?”

Tiki shrugged, got to her feet. A pretty child—maybe ten years old—with wide eyes and smooth skin, she had a mass of thick hair halfway down her back, brushed to a deep shine. She wore the same style underpants as everyone else.

She leaned in close again and lowered her voice. “She smokes when she’s angry, which is most of the time. Her temper is worse than boy warriors who drink too much clap-clap. Warriors get angry because they have nobody to fight. Maybe it’s the same thing for the Volcano God.”

“The volcano wants to fight?”

“She is surrounded by water, has no enemies. Eating people is the only thing left to make her happy.”

The narrow trail of smoke was an unbroken line connecting the mountain to the horizon. Would it bring rescue? How far did it hold together for people to see? If it really came from the mouth of a god, maybe it traveled all the way to where they’d lifted off, the perfect white smoke mixing with the yellow smog over Los Angeles. The thought made him feel less isolated, if only for a few seconds.

“Should be time for food,” said the girl. “You look hungry as a volcano.”

She was looking up at him, smiling with a flawless set of round teeth that he caught himself inspecting for bits of human flesh.

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