Archive for the ‘isolation’ Tag

Disappearing People   Leave a comment

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Julia Phillips’ descriptions of the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia as lonely and cold are vivid in her novel Disappearing Earth. The title is fitting given the geographic isolation and the way the people move in, then away from the plot.

Beginning with the abduction of two young girls, the narrative features a range of characters with strong, tenuous or nonexistent ties to the victims. What they share is the locale and an awareness of the missing girls.

The first chapter is called August. Subsequent chapters/months represent the passage of time and introduce another situation involving others. The result is a disconnect more suggestive of a short story collection than a novel since there’s often no resolution for the problems or experiences described. Issues range from a young woman in college with a manipulative boyfriend, to a lost dog, from ethnic traditions to dissolution of friendships or family estrangements. Nonetheless, most chapters are captivating. These are interesting people, and the rich writing of each situation only begs for more. The list of main characters included to keep track of who’s who helps.

The investigation of the missing girls is initially a priority for the police, but eventually loses momentum. By contrast, a young indigenous woman who previously went disappeared was barely acknowledged by authorities.

The novel’s greatest strength lies in the setting; it’s a character unto itself. The weather, the light and the landscape, which includes rocky beaches, densely-wooded forests and looming active volcanos, are austere – like its people.

Disappearing Earth
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019
256 pages

Moral Compass   Leave a comment

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For some reason it seems the stack of books on my nightstand never, ever shrinks. Some titles have been there for longer than I care to confess. When I saw that The Light Between Oceans has been made into a movie, it was time for me to rescue it from the mountain of titles. (If I decide to see the film I need to read the book first.)

Written in 2012, this is M.L. Stedman’s debut novel set off the rocky coast of Australia following World War I. The author provides lyrical descriptions of the harsh life of a lighthouse keeper, Tom, made more comfortable by the love and vibrant personality of his wife, Isabel.

Tom has returned from the war surprised and guilt-ridden by his survival. He is well suited to the solitary life on an isolated thread of land. It isn’t until he meets Isabel while waiting for his next lighthouse assignment that he realizes what’s been missing from his life. They marry, and after Isabel miscarries multiple times, they believe their hopes of having a family will elude them. That is until a small boat washes ashore with an infant child and a drowned man.

Tom wants to turn the baby over to authorities; Isabel does not. What follows is a succession of heartache and lies borne of love. Stedman’s characters are real, full of faults. She raises poignant questions for all involved and readers are left to consider what they might do in a similar situation.

The Light Between Oceans
Four Bookmarks
Scribner, 2012
343 pages

Self-inflicted Isolation   1 comment

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All the Living by C. E. Morgan is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read; unfortunately, the story doesn’t reach the same level as the words that embrace it. It’s not bad; it just doesn’t rise to the same level as the well-crafted images. I must admit that the opening sentence immediately grabbed me with its element of intrigue: “She had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to.”

She is Aloma, a young woman, who spent her early years living with relatives in a trailer before being sent, at age 12, to a “mission school” – essentially an orphanage. There, she discovers a talent (and passion) for the piano. Otherwise, there is little to set her apart.

The house, on a tobacco farm, is Orren’s. When his mother and brother are killed in an accident he asks Aloma, whom he had recently met, to join him as he tries to maintain the homestead. A young preacher who befriends Aloma is added to the mix, which also includes the harsh, isolated landscape.

There’s no time frame but basic amenities are evident; it’s clear this is not a back-in-the-day tale. The house has an old, hopelessly out-of-tune piano. Orren has the farm and a reticence that comes from grief and the responsibilities he’s inherited.

Possessing little, but more than they realize, Aloma and Orren’s story isn’t just about being lonely even when others are present, but about love and self-awareness.

All the Living
Three-and-a-half bookmarks
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009
199 pages