Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book 22, Honduras: "The Mosquito Coast" by Paul Theroux

I'm losing steam on this project. May have to take a break for a while. Could be this book, though: it's a great novel, but it rankles with me that I've ended up reading not a book about Honduras per se but an analogy for the American entrepreneurial spirit of manifest destiny that just happens to take the form of a mad guy trying to build a utopia in the Honduran jungles.



Chose the book 'cos Paul Theroux's famous - he's also worked at the National University of Singapore, and set one of his novels, Saint Jack, in Singapore, which of course spawned the once-banned Bogdanovich movie of the same name. Plus his son, Louis Theroux, is mega-cute and mega-talented as a documentary journalist. Also because there really didn't seem to be anything written by a Honduran in the National Library.

Three reasons why the book gets me down, really.

1. Allie Fox, the megalomaniac father, is so plainly destructive towards his family with his genius and paranoia that you spend the entire book waiting in dread for everything to go to hell - and he's got a wife and a family of five kids too, transfixed by his charisma while also trying to deal with the fact that he lies about his failures to cover his ass, and these aren't small failures, these are great big destroyed-your-entire-community-with-ammonia-and-hydrogen failures, and the story's narrated from the viewpoint of 12 year-old Charlie as well, so there's all the vulnerabilty of adolescence as well...

2. Allie's language is so compellingly written and so juicy with its insanity that I know I will never be able to write something so good, and it annoys the hell out of me, since I've been trying to improve my prose-writing for the last week and a half on 750words.com. Even the way Emily, the pastor's daughter, speaks with her fixation on pop culture has me floored.

3. And of course, I learn nothing about Honduras except that there are native people in the province of Mosquitía (some are called Twahkas and Zambus) who eat a porridge called wabool, and there are guavas and alligators and missionaries and Communists, and a certain form of Indo-Spanglish that people speak. I know that might seem like a fair bit, but the soul of the place is missing. The book is not about Honduras, dammit.

Damn, I'm starting to give my book reviews in point form. What's up with that?


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Representative quote: But as we sudsed up the river (monkeys on the right, kinkajous on the left), Father said, 'I find it hard to believe that some missionary hasn't been here before and bought their souls with Twinkies and cheese-spread in spray cans and creates of Rice-a-Roni.' He watched a monkey on a branch. 'Hershey bars.' We passed by. He looked back at the monkey. 'Diet Pepsi.' Now he turned to the kinkajous. 'Kool-Aid.' He flicked his cigar butt into the river. 'Makes your mouth water, doesn't it?'

Next book: Another impasse: Joan Didion's non-fiction book Salvador or Horacio Castellano Moyas's novel Dance With Snakes. Both from/about El Salvador.

1 comment:

Shelbi said...

I'm thinking of reading this too -- easy access at the library and maybe I can get my husband to watch the movie version with me -- River Phoenix in 1986 was pretty cute.

Your review didn't sound too disparaging after all.