About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

#58 - Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange

Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange, by Amanda Smyth (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009)

Jacket Summary: "'Men will want you like they want a glass of rum. ... One man will love you. But you won't love him. You will destroy his life. The one you love will break your heart in two.'

"So says the soothsayer, when predicting young Celia's future. Raised in the tropics of Tobago by an aunt she loves and an uncle she fears, Celia has never felt that she belonged. When her uncle -- a man the neighbors call Allah because he thinks himself higher than God -- does something unforgivable, Celia escapes to the bustling capital city.

"There she quickly embraces her burgeoning independence, but her search for a place to call home is soon complicated by an affectionate friendship with William, a thoughtful gardener, and a strong sexual tension with her employer. All too quickly, Celia finds herself fulfilling the soothsayer's predictions and living a life of tangled desperation -- trapped between the man who offers her passion and the one who offers his heart."

Opening line: "I knew about my parents from the things I was told."

My take: An entertaining, if mostly lightweight, debut novel, saved from pure, beach reading, chick-lit-dom by an interesting setting (Trinidad and Tobago) and a likable if misguided heroine.

Then again, "lightweight" and "entertaining" don't quite tell the full story. We know from the first sentence that Celia has never known her parents; her mother, Trini native Grace, died when she was born, and her white British father decamped to Southampton before she was born. Even so, Aunt Tassi's home in a small Tobagan village would be a safe, loving one were it not for Tassi's second husband, the lecherous Roman. Tassi, herself a single mother of twin daughters, seems to think any husband is better than none, and turns a blind eye to Roman's brutality and philanderings. Celia is barely sixteen when Roman rapes her, and makes it clear that Tassi will never believe her over him. Convinced that he is right, Celia flees to Port of Spain with the clothes on her back and what little money she finds in the house.

Two chance happenings on the inter-island ferry shape her destiny. First, she meets William, a homely but kind gardener who works for a wealthy doctor and his British wife in Port of Spain. Second, she falls ill on the crossing, getting steadily sicker and weaker with fever until, once they reach Trinidad, William takes her home to his mother's and eventually summons his employer, Dr. Rodriguez, for help.

Having read the book jacket, I wasn't surprised when my initial suspicions were confirmed: William is indeed the man who comes to love Celia in vain, and it's Dr. Rodriguez who breaks Celia's heart. Unfortunately, this love triangle is probably the weakest part of the book. While Celia's friendship with the gentle William, and his mother's wary mistrust, is believable, the Celia-Rodriguez pairing is far less so. To me, it just seemed too coercive. I could easily understand how the young, isolated Celia could end up becoming lovers with her wealthy, powerful employer, but Smyth doesn't do a sufficiently convincing job explaining what makes Celia fall in love with him. Likewise, I'd have liked more insight into Celia's burgeoning relationship with her Aunt Sula, her mother and Tassi's other sister, who lives in semi-retirement on the country estate estate outside Port of Spain where she worked for decades.

Glad I read this one once, but don't know if it's something I'll come back to.

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