Thursday, December 14, 2006
Winter Reading Challenge Book Review #4: The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
I can't say I didn't like this book. But I didn't exactly like it either. It's a bit like spending a weekend with a bipolar person currently in the manic phase. If you don't know anyone who is bipolar, you'll just have to take my word for it. Paul Theroux is obviously a very gifted writer, and made some great choices in the crafting of this book. First, he tells the story from the perspective of the 14 year old son, Charlie. This gives him many advantages, not the least of which is lending believability to the story. No way the wife could have told the story -- you'd be thinking she was weak and stupid the whole time. But a child naturally does believe in their parents, takes what they say as gospel, and has a gargantuan struggle at the time at which they realize that their parent might not be "all there". Seeing the father through the eyes of a child is really the only way to display elements of his likability.. to everyone else, he's crazy as a loon, and not likable in any way.
Allie Fox (the father) is brilliant, no question about it. And in the same way that many brilliant people are also tortured, likewise is he. The book was painful for me to read, though, because he simply isn't nice. If I met someone like him in MY daily life, I'd have to call CPS and have his kids taken away from him. Then I'd medicate him. I'm fairly sure he'd qualify for full blown manic-depression, being manic most of the time. But you do see glimpses of depression, although he is adept at fighting that side of his life.
And the mother! My online Yahoo book club, BookiesToo, discussed this book back in May 2006. I went back and looked at the discussion and noticed some people said the mother was "watery" and other people thought she was very strong, because there's no way she could have stayed if she wasn't!! Strong isn't exactly the word I'd use. In my line of work, when I meet someone who is using, say, methamphetamines, their life is undoubtably hard and cold. But I wouldn't call them strong...I'd call them weak or stupid or unbalanced. No doubt the lifestyle here required some strength to get through. But I think Mother (as she's called) is as mentally ill as father. Excuse my psychobabble here, but I'd give her Dependent Personality Disorder, or something like that. Without him, there was no her. And that, my friends, is diagnosible. ESPECIALLY, when you put your own children in danger to stay close to someone dangerous. She isn't the first person to do it, and I know there's mothers all over the place doing it even today.
It's not that I don't have empathy. I just don't want to spend hours (reading or otherwise) with these people. Overall, great writing but very hard to read.