MAILE MELOY — DO NOT BECOME ALARMED — 2017
The truth is always revealed when you reached the end of the story.
“He kept thinking of old news footage of the fall of Saigon, those last-minute helicopters off the roof. He and his family had escaped, leaving chaos behind them. It was the American way.” (page 311)
It is, of course, an enormous euphemism, the understatement of the last millennium. It is not only chaos Americans left behind them but millions of dead and wounded people, a country impregnated with chemicals, Agent Orange and many other bombs, mines, ruins and so many horrors, human and material, that are not healed even more than forty years later. This concluding remark though is a direct allusion to what the USA has been doing in the world, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and many other places all over the world since 2001 and even before or between Saigon 1975 and WTC 2001, not to expand too much on all their lost wars since 1945.
But here we have a novel and this revealing sentence is only at the end. The novel is a story and the concluding balance of this thriller is particularly negative. Two American families, one Jewish and the other half black half Jewish, the two wives of these two families being Jewish cousins, go on a sea cruise and get lost in some drug dealing Mesoamerican place, lost and entangled in it with their children captured more or less as hostages. These two families and their children will come back without any human loss. But on the cruise, they got in contact with an Argentinian family with two children too. This third family will get entangled with the entanglement of the two entangled American families. But they will come back with their son eaten up by crocodiles and their daughter raped by one of the two drug dealers who abducted the (five) children. Note the diabolical pentacle of the five chidren captured by the drug dealers as compared to the three times two, hence six original children, hence Solomon’s wisdom and David’s star. From Jewish wisdom to satanic paganism.
What’s more one drug dealer will end up dead. The other will end up vanished into thin American air, probably in California or who cares where. The housekeeper of the drug dealers will try to make the five children that had been captured escape and her son will drive them away rebuilding thus a sextuple figure — what an adventure! The son will end up prosecuted in a way or another in his Mesoamerican country for the killing of a man he did not kill but one of the children under his “care” did kill, though that real killer is Argentinian. The Americans are clean, though they cover up the cover-up and the Argentinian father pays for a lawyer for the Mesoamerican boy who accepts to take the murder on his own hands provided a girl who was being transferred by the murdered man to her paperless parents in New York be delivered to her parents and these parents and the girl be provided with legal papers. That’s the only thing the Americans actually clean up. The rest of the mess stays behind.
If you’re able to overlook this American mess and deal with this novel as a plain thriller and not a metaphor of American imperialism, you will enjoy it. It is dynamic when it finally leaves Los Angeles on the cruise ship and when the three families get entangled in their entanglements with drug dealers. Dynamic, fast running, creative, inventive, full of imagination at times completely distorted and twisted out of proportion and reason, the thriller is worth reading, though the final chapters are trying to establish some American peace of mind for the American actors of the story, certainly not for the readers. The book is definitely not colorblind and the black husband of one family, as well as the two brown children of this family, are identified as black and brown and you are reminded of it regularly all along. That sure is a good point.
We cannot say the same on the Jewish side of one family and the wife of the second family. It is said and even repeated that they are Jewish but there is not one single element of Jewishness that is put down on the table. Since we are in the Yule season, since we have Christmas and New Year we could have had Hanukkah, but we don’t. We could have had some distance from the Catholic Christmas celebrations, from the Catholic references in Mesoamerica, and an emphasis on the Catholic role of a priest who saves the last batch of children from the jungle (the novel only mentions the priest’s greedy desire to get the reward), etc. The catholic constant reference is just that, constant, and the Jewish reference is just a circumstantial allusion. Then since one of the two Jewish wives is at least unstable if not paranoid and psychotic, we can attribute that to her Jewishness. Since the other Jewish wife manages to have a quick and true enough superficial fingering affair with the Mesoamerican guide of the outing she takes part in and that will end up so badly, we can attribute that to her Jewishness. At least the two Jewish wives and mothers are at best matushkas or mamochkas, possessive mothers, but basically unstable and untrustworthy wives and mothers. The picture of the Jewish women is particularly sorry and sad.
But the Black man and his mother are shown in very contrasting shades of social behavior. The man is very generous and forgiving in front of his wife’s shortcomings both as a wife and as a mother: she neglects looking after her kids in an improvised situation in some Mesoamerican jungle to have an encounter with the guide who neglects his own responsibilities to have that evanescent and quick satisfaction with the wife and mother. The mother of this black man is also very generous with her daughter-in-law who has put her son’s balance at risk and who has caused the catastrophe of one child’s death and five children’s kidnapping. We could definitely expect a stronger and stricter reaction from both the black husband and father and the black grandmother and mother-in-law. In other words, the novel is disappointing in realism as for the depicting of the Jewish characters and the Black characters. The Mesoamerican and southern American characters are just bystanders and circumstantial agents, and I wonder if the father in this southern American family is not more constructive and positive because he is of German heritage, and sure enough the mother of this third family is not very brilliant.
We could wonder if the author is not settling accounts with her concept of “mother” or with her own mother herself. Even the housekeeper of the drug dealers is not depicted in very positive colors and rather as an irresponsible person sending her own son on a catastrophic apocalyptic mission out of which he comes stained, charged with a murder he had not committed, and he will have to carry this blame forever in his life: imagine his future in this Mesoamerican country where drug dealing is the central and main economic activity.
But it sure is entertaining as a caricature of Americans on vacation in an imperialistically dominated country. Americans are mess-dealers everywhere they put their big shoes down. Crush! Crush! Go their boots everywhere, on everything, on every body and all bodies, and I really mean bodies, they may encounter on their path. They should go around carrying a sign around their necks, both back and front, saying “BEWARE! AMERICAN TROUBLE MAKERS!” And I am sure some Americans are going to hate me for spreading this simple truth.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU