A morality tale about two indolent Americans eking out an existence in Mexico by begging and the occasional oil refinery job, who team up with an old...moreA morality tale about two indolent Americans eking out an existence in Mexico by begging and the occasional oil refinery job, who team up with an old prospector to mine for gold in the mountains. I've heard this book described as "deeply ironic," which I can't really go along with considering that everything you expect would happen -- greed, paranoia, and violence -- eventually does happen. I originally read this book when I was 15 and it was assigned in my high school Spanish class, though presumably not for the numerous times that characters say filthy things about other characters' mothers in Mexican slang. It's a great novel that will make you pessimistic about human nature and, having first read it when I was so young, it may account in part for my general outlook on life. Moreover, I have forgotten almost all the Spanish I ever learned, although I still remember how to say a rude thing about tu madre, not that I ever would. I'm sure she's lovely.(less)
I always have the same reaction to Paul Theroux; I'm impressed with his artistry, but the world-view he presents (at least in his fiction -- I haven't...moreI always have the same reaction to Paul Theroux; I'm impressed with his artistry, but the world-view he presents (at least in his fiction -- I haven't read any of his travel writing) is so bleak that I'm left feeling fairly depressed. The Mosquito Coast was no different in this regard.
Allie Fox is best described as a cult leader, but his followers are merely his wife and his four children. The story is narrated by Charlie, who at 14 is his oldest child, and begins with the family living on an asparagus farm in New England where Allie works as a handyman and supervisor to the migrant farm workers from Honduras. After a dispute with the farm owner over what he sees as the owner's unfair profit-seeking, Allie packs up his family and moves them to the Honduran jungle to create a new society, one led by paranoid, hypocritical, abusive Allie and his God complex. In short, Allie is barking mad, and the longer he stays in the jungle, the worse he gets. This madness infects his family to a degree, but not nearly enough; they remain sane enough to know that they're in a bad, bad situation. The passivity of his wife is irritating, but his two sons' alternating between devotion to and fear of him is painful to read. The only really weak aspect of the book is in the portrayal of the two daughters; they didn't seem to serve any purpose in moving the narrative forward, and the fact that there were two of them rather magnified the problem. Sort of like when you see an unattractive person and then see his unattractive identical twin, which only makes the first person look that much worse because now there are two of them.
Without spoiling the story, I can say that, as is typical of dystopian fiction, things do not end well. And despite expecting a bad end to Allie's brave new world, I was still pretty horrified. I think this is a great book, but I didn't really like it, if that makes any sense. (less)
In The Mysterious Benedict Society, four children with unique abilities are recruited to save the world from takeover by a narcoleptic megalomaniac wh...moreIn The Mysterious Benedict Society, four children with unique abilities are recruited to save the world from takeover by a narcoleptic megalomaniac who is in the process of perfecting a method of brainwashing and mind control that uses children to transmit capsules of information via doublespeak using TV and radio waves. That's the short version. The longer version is 486 pages.
This is a satisfying and charming read if you approach it from the vantage point of whether or not a child would like it. The unique abilities of the four main characters are nothing magical or unusual -- Reynie is good at logic and reasoning and is a natural leader, Sticky is a fast reader and remembers everything he reads, Kate is athletic and can MacGyver anything she needs from items in a bucket she keeps with her at all times, and discovering Constance's ability (as well as another pertinent fact about her) is one of the fun surprises the book contains. Because these four are basically just regular kids who, being parentless in various ways, are primarily seeking a sense of belonging, you can see their appeal to the children who are the book's primary audience.
As an adult reader, however, I didn't find anything particularly wondrous about the book. Overall, there's a derivative feel about the writing, with elements of James and the Giant Peach, 1984, and as most other reviewers have noted Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven't read either Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket, but my sense is that if I had, I would like this book less. I did enjoy reading The Mysterious Benedict Society, but I don't feel all that compelled to read the sequels (and not only because there have already been two sequels in two years).
As a kid's book for adults, I would give this 3 stars; as a kid's book for kids, it's worth 4.(less)