Friday, February 15, 2013

The Mosquito Coast - Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux (1941-)

A cross between the Swiss Family Robinson and Glass Castles, Mosquito Coast is what would have been if Mr. Robinson was a paranoid psychotic inventor. The story follows the Fox family as they uproot from their small home in Massachusetts to find a happier and simpler life in the backwaters of Honduras.

The book opens with the father, Allie Fox, lecturing his 13 year old son, Charlie, about the downfall of the American lifestyle. Allie is an irascible and brilliant inventor, never short for words and quick to give a lecture. A Harvard dropout, a self taught engineer who demands perfection and has little time for religion, consumerism or poor craftsmanship.  As they collect items for one of Allie's inventions, Charlie holds his father in a sort awe and reverence. Although he wishes he could participate in the normal everyday American childhood that he observes around him, instead Charlie and his 3 younger siblings live a sheltered and secluded life as their father tries to protect them from conspicuous consumption and the corruption of a capitalist society.

Eventually Allie decides he has had enough and uproots his family, they leave taking only the barest of necessities, seeds, tools and camping supplies, abandoning everything else, anything that could remind them of the life they are leaving behind. From that moment the word "home" is forbidden, they are turning their backs on the past and all they have left behind as they make their way into the impenetrable wilderness. Only Allie knows where they are headed and the family clings to him, dependent on him for their survival in a hopeful and trusting way. As they begin to construct their new life hidden deep within the jungle of Honduras, all Allie's ingenuity and brilliance seems like a self fulfilling prophecy. Within a short time they have created an idyllic oasis and as Allie continues to invent, the children rest in the security of the strength and indefatigably of their father.

And then one day their life is turned upside down and they must struggle to survive, struggle to maintain hope as their lives are caught in a slowly eroding tailspin. Allie, who although quirky, seemed generally sane, begins to exhibit more and more signs of paranoia, his unending lectures are tinged with a sense of the deranged and as the family picks up the pieces of their increasingly shattered life, they must come to terms with their fathers weakening grasp of reality.

 I haven't cried while reading a book in a long time... (although Sam Shepard made me want to cry for entirely different reasons...)Theroux's writing style is deeply engaging, I felt like I was living in the jungle, feeling the torpid summer heat, hearing the never ending drone of the mosquitoes...feeling the hope of a new life and the constant Charlie realizes his father is no longer sane he must decide how to save the family from their father's increasingly drastic demands.

"Then the darkness, which was like fathoms of ink, softened, became finely gray, and, without revealing anything more of the sea, turned to powder. All around us the powdery dawn thickened, until, growing coarser and ashy, in a sunrise without sun, it threw us glimpses of the soapy sea and the shoreline and the jungle heaped like black rags of kelp. Soon the sun was an hour high on the naked shore."

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