"What do you know about shame? You walk around fixing roofs and toilets. You don't need to swallow your pride. I swallow mine. Every day. I peddle food, drinks, massages, and anything else I can think of. I clean up messes all day long. So I know about shame. It's with me like my shadow."
Lek and Sarai try to make ends meet, managing a small resort in Thailand's Ko Phi Phi island, but money is short, their buildings and surroundings need maintenance, and their children need to be put through school. In addition, one of their tenants, an American man named Patch, has already been staying at their resort for much longer than is allowed on a normal visa, making Sarai nervous. Patch, however, is trying to stay low after attacking a cop who had busted him when he was buying marijuana. His do-the-right-thing brother, Ryan is on his way to the island to convince Patch to turn himself to the authorities. Ryan, on the other hand, is having difficulties with his girlfriend, Brooke, who has also accompanied him to the island. While the individual characters battle out their personal problems, the readers (we) know that they are running on a timer - the 2004 tsunami is just round the corner.
As a personal policy, I never read books set against a recent catastrophe, like the Katrina hurricane, or the 9/11 or even school shootings, unless it is nonfiction or my memory of the event is vague at best. I find it difficult to get over the feeling that the tragic event is being exploited (it probably is not being, it's just too fresh in my mind to make me feel otherwise). But when John Shors offered me his book Cross Currents, I had to bend my own rule for two reasons - one, the tsunami wasn't the major player of the book. In fact, it could have been any tragedy, but the idea behind the story - how you go by your life and its issues and one day you wake up to see everything gone just like that, was very powerful. And second, the day the tsunami happened, I was sitting with my family on a beach in Chennai, where the water came up to half the beach and we were standing there absolutely riveted! Thank goodness there was no major damage!
Cross Currents started out wonderful. I read it first, sometime last year, but didn't get past the first few pages because I wasn't getting the time to read it. And then, I learned that it was nominated for the Indie Lit Awards. So I decided to wait until it was time to start reading the nominations. However, past that beautiful start, I couldn't find much that held me hooked to the book. I pretty much hate saying that because I had a lot of expectations out of this book, but it just didn't work for me.
None of the characters intrigued me. A few were likable, but I didn't feel like rooting for anyone. Ryan bugged me because of how dominating and stubborn he was, but when he began to get attracted to another woman in the second half of the book, and still expected his 'girlfriend' Brooke to be committed to him, I just about got annoyed with him. The other characters felt too do-goody to me to feel strongly about them.
The narrative didn't score too high with me either. Parts of it slogged for me, and I was anxious to get past that to see what would happen next. I also wasn't too impressed with how many times the characters kept mentioning about 'a good future', or '10 more days' or 'a few more weeks', but then I guess my knowledge of what was coming biased me against that. For me the main draw of the book was the fickleness of life. How you can sit and make plans to do a ton of things, and it only takes an instant for all that to be thrashed to rubble. How you can decorate and redecorate your house, and a tornado whips it to shards. How you can make plans to meet a long lost friend, and an accident makes that an impossibility. All through my reading of this book, that thought was heavily present, and it was very humbling to acknowledge it. With that in mind, I wished things didn't tie up so nicely in the end, because I would never have expected loose ends to get sorted out. But I guess, for closure, it has to be allowed.
Still, this was a really fast-paced book - the plot moved quickly too, and Shors' descriptive writing made me want to visit Thailand. The description of the deadly waves was also spot-on and vivid. I would have liked to see what happened next in the aftermath, but I appreciated the ending enough to formulate my own what-next and acknowledge the message of the book. I know I wasn't too moved by this book, but I definitely thought it was insightful and thought-provoking.
I received this book for free for review from the author.