Saturday, July 15, 2017

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Two families are on a cruise down the coast of Central America.  They meet a family from Argentina on board.  As with most cruises, the ship puts in to port most days and there are options for excursions.  One day the mothers and kids decide to go zip lining in Costa Rica (although the country is never named) while the fathers go to play golf.  Disaster ensues. 

I have little tolerance for "children are in danger - and the parents are full of angst" novels because I mostly think it is a cheap trick to keep the reader turning the pages.  And this is that kind of novel.  So, if you like that kind of thing you might like this for a beach read.  If you don't, don't bother. 

A few thoughts.

There are six children ranging in age from about 5 to teenager.  Two are white, two are bi-racial and two are Argentinian.  All of these kids are wealthy.  There are also two other Latino children who become involved, both of whom are poor.  It was never completely clear to me why Meloy decided to create a bi-racial couple with children but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was so she could have bad things happen to the Latino children (but not the white children) and still have a defense that this wasn't racist.  But the fact is, the only kids to whom physically bad things happen are not the American kids.  This really bothered me.

A particularly bad thing happens to the 14 year old Argentinian girl.  Not a particularly surprising thing, given the circumstances; but a bad thing.  This kind of bad thing is never the victim's fault although people often blame the victim.  Meloy does pretty much everything to make it seem like it was her fault.  

The happy ending for one of the kids was resolved so easily with no apparent complications, which I found completely unbelievable.   Maybe that's just because we're living in an age of such intense anti-immigration feeling.  But I think it was unbelievable even before the last year. 

A person I know who writes mystery novels once said that all the best novels rely on coincidences that aren't noticed.   I was distracted by all the coincidences in this novel. 

Finally, if you've ever read A High Wind in Jamaica you don't need to read this novel.   It was better and you've pretty much already been spoiled for plot twists. She isn't trying to pass anything off here; the book opens with a quote from that novel.  But basically this is a retelling of that story. It may be that Hughes' novel worked better for me because it mostly told the story about the children and didn't dwell on the psychological angst of the parents.