Book Review: The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld – Justin Hocking
Words By Dani Hedlund
Drops of experience form the sea upon which our lives drift. From our passions and history to the books we read and the people we trust, we cannot separate our lives from these influences. Yet, when we tell our stories, these factors are the first to fall away, discarded in favor of the more comfortable “plot” that lends structure to our lives.
In his debut memoir The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld, Justin Hocking ventures to tell both accounts. He does not simply show us the events that make up this life, but also the seemingly nonessential elements that surround him. However, as we are pulled deeper into the plot, we realize that all of the additional chapters—the history of surfing, of Herman Melville’s literary career, of chemical pollution in New York—are vital undercurrents that propel the story forward.
As the memoir opens, Hocking seeks out an adventure worthy of Melville’s name. Just as Ishmael boards the Pequod, Hocking steps into the fast-paced, transient world of New York City. He leaves everything behind—his life in Colorado, the girl he loves, a life of family, comfort, and skateboarding—for the promise of constant movement, for the ever-changing ebb and flow of the city that never sleeps.
Yet he quickly learns that this motion is not done of his own volition. Like a vessel lost at sea, the city—along with the subways and culture and professional ladder-climbing that accompany it—is charged with currents that toss and sway Hocking, often against his will.
Without this freedom, Justin runs around the metaphorical deck, slowly losing his grip. He skateboards for five hours at a time, until he can barely move. He tucks his surfboard under his arm and runs into the freezing and polluted waters of Rockaway Beach. When he’s moving, when the adrenaline is pumping through his ears, he can forget that he’s trapped: that he is stuck in “the pit” professionally, that love and happiness are the promise of land his ship might never reach.
Narrated with a stunning and confident voice, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld chronicles Justin’s misadventures, his struggles against relationship addiction, career indecision, and the poisonous effects of New York City. Yet, through this vast ocean of challenges, an incredible resilience begins to surface.
Hocking finds strength in unexpected places—in the pages of Moby-Dick, in the calm and violence of surfing, in grungy church basements. Joined by a motley crew of artists and athletes, he navigates the troubled waters of identity, searching for his place in the world. And through it all, the words of Herman Melville, the history of his family, of the sports he loves, of the city where he dwells, reach out to guide him, pushing him closer to the decisions that will reshape his life.
It is without hesitation that Tethered by Letters recommends The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld. This unique memoir challenges the conventions of storytelling, immersing us in the tumultuous storm of young adulthood. With each new battle, we are reminded of how essential the subtle influences in our lives can become, and how we can use them to navigate our way to shore.