Monday, May 02, 2011

A cliffhanger ending to a portion of a book review? Yep, that's right. (The Rum Punch Review of "Virgin Territory" by Patrick Dilloway, Part 2)

What's a Rum Punch Review? Click here to find out.

Part 1 of this review is here.

I've been pondering now, for two days, whether or not to ask The Two Philosophical Questions that this book caused me to ask myself, and I've decided to just go ahead and do it.

But not yet.

After setting up an improbable premise with a bunch of questions lingering in the air, as I said -- weird loner guy, small town with quirky characters, mysterious girl with amnesia washed up on a beach -- Dilloway immediately grounds the story in minutiae, lending an air of believability to what started as a mystery or thriller type story and quickly settles into an unusual relationship story. He sends his characters not off to shadowy offices or other mysterious locations, but to a lunch counter and babysitting: Andrea, the main character/amnesiac begins settling into a life with Gary, the protagonist, almost immediately, moving in with him, going shopping at a thrift store on some of Gary's hard-saved money, helping out with a local friend.

That shift doesn't throw the story off, but deepens it a little; after all, the set-up to the story is somewhat preposterous, and might only get worse from there, but it seems as though Dilloway is not as interested in the Grisham-esque aspects of his characters.

It's interesting sometimes to look at a story you're reading and wonder how other authors would have handled it, what the same premise would serve as for someone else, and the set-up for Virgin Territory is such that it's easy to do that. So I did:

In Grisham's hands, Gary would not be a self-isolated accountant who hides from the world and keeps himself in a state of arrested adolescence for long; he'd quickly decide that he needs to support Andrea (as Dilloway's Gary does) and get to work for an accounting practice, where he'd soon uncover a nefarious scheme that would lead him further and further into shady dealings, where it would turn out that Andrea's amnesia was drug-induced by the very people Gary is now uncovering, and that if he cures her, he'll unlock memories that would be helpful in a massive trial now unfolding, and Andrea would again be targeted by hitmen.

Stephen King, I expect, would have gone a slightly different route: Andrea after Andrea would have washed up on the beach, each one a slightly different version, until Gary's life was overpopulated with amnesiac women who he tried to hide from the town, growing more and more desperate until he finally had to start killing them -- and the Andreas turned on him.

Jonathan Franzen would have...

... well, you get the point. As the Virgin Territory story lingered around in Dagger Lake, with Gary and Andrea settling into a more-or-less normal and mundane existence, I kept waiting for Dilloway to drop that other shoe, but he didn't, not right away: Instead, he threw out some subtle little clues that not all was right here.

As I noted, Gary lives in a state of arrested development: he's hiding out in Dagger Lake; that becomes clear soon enough, but it's not clear what he's hiding out from. There is a mention of a previous Andrea (who I thought was his wife at first) and some troubles and a few references to Gary's working as a part-time accountant just enough to get some money to scrape by. There is some talk about Andrea wanting to find her past and how unusual her amnesia is.

But that's it, for a while, until one day Gary decides that he's going to help Andrea find out what happened by taking her to go look around other parts of Michigan, to find her past. The two set out on a road trip that quickly goes bad in yet another mysterious way: Andrea gets sullen and upset and Gary gets into some minor trouble on a college campus in an episode that I had trouble, at first, figuring out how it fit into the story -- I thought at first it might be another clue to Andrea's, or Gary's, pasts, and it kind of was, but it also helped propel Gary and Andrea to Gary's parent's house, where Dilloway lays on the backstory and explains a good deal of what's happened...

... to Gary, and the first Andrea.

That's where the story takes the first twist, and with that, I guess, I'm going to go ahead and ask those Two Philosophical Questions, which are these:

1. Can you tell people that there's a twist ending in a book without in fact ruining the twist ending,


2. Can you ask people whether or not telling them that there's a twist ending in a book ruins that twist ending anyway, by giving away the fact that there's a twist ending, thereby doing what it was you'd hoped to avoid doing in the first place by asking the question?

and, for good measure, a bonus question:

3. Are you, meaning me, completely insane?

All fair questions, and I'll answer them next time.

Part Three coming soon.

Click here for more Rum Punch Reviews.


Rogue Mutt said...

I'd have to say my points of comparison for the story were "The Notebook" and "The Time Traveler's Wife." You know, love stories with a twist. And then I threw in some John Irving and Richard Russo literary touches--or tried to at any rate.

Now I'm waiting with bated breath for Part 3!

Rogue Mutt said...

OK, it's been 9 days now; I'm really getting tired of bating my breath. Did that even make sense? Probably not.

The word verification is tentlyin. Those lyin tents! Worse than those trees, those useless trees.