Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Midwestern Reserve Meets Karma (Books - In the Land of No Right Angles by Daphne Beal)

It is the contrast between cultures rather than the plotting per se that is keeping me interested in the triangle that forms the center of Daphne Beal's novel In the Land of No Right Angles. Alex, a young Midwestern photographer, Will, a sybaritic guru, and Maya a rural Nepalese innocent end up living together in Kathmandu. They have three ways of seeing, three ways of loving, three ways of expressing themselves. The setting throws these differences into further relief. On a walk to the market, Alex and Maya see posters with photos of political protesters who were brutally beaten, many of them killed. One of the victims was Maya's brother and Maya breaks down in the middle of the street:

People didn't have these open, emotional displays in Nepal. There was no weeping or shouting, nothing the least bit melodramatic or Mediterranean, but the equanimity here wasn't the same as the Midwestern forbearance that I grew up with either. It was simply as if people experiences, good and bad, dropped like stones into a deep well. I think it had to do with a strong sense of karma and with the inevitability of things. Here, if your child died, that fact did not orbit your head or become your identity the way in would at home, yet it remained deeply a part of you.

Beal's writing has become less spare as the novel has progressed. The tone has become less reportorial, more contemplative. A little less than 100 pages into the book, we are privy to some backstory - a relationship Alex had with a filmmaker in the United States - that writing, in contrast to most of the rest of the book, is personal and tinged with strong emotions. I don't know whether the shift is the writer's or the narrator's - perhaps both. It places her emotional reserve up to the point in context and this reader wonders if the unusual setting and circumstances won't be the catalyst for Alex to gain access to this more passionate side of her nature.

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