Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
From The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis
Open quote 

Oh, my God, she said. What's on these pants? Is this blood? Her sweet, earnest face, becalmed by the gentle tides of a comfortable life, filled with a look of mortification. Dutiful wife, instinctive mother, she sniffed at a patch of the stains, repulsed. They’re covered with blood! There's so much of it. Tom, what happened? Yes, that. What happened. He would have to tell her something but he did not know where to begin or where to end and he did not know if she should ever, ever know him so well, or how he spent his days when he was away from her."

And so the mystery begins. After the jump, my review.

Grade: B-

How the blood got on Tom's pants is just the opening question of what starts out like a traditional murder mystery. The exotic location of the murder, Haiti during the American military occupation in the 1990s, is an even deeper quandary. Before the novel's end, Bob Shacochis takes us even farther afield, to the Balkans during the last, bloody days of WWII; to Turkey in the 1980s, when the Cold War was ending and the Middle East wars were heating up; and to a few other locations for good measure. Shacochis does an outstanding job of describing the clusterf*ck America's involvement in foreign adventures turns out to be. In the following passage, he's describing Haiti, but it could just as easily apply to Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, or Syria.
It no longer mattered that for eighteen months, while the Green Berets had been living hard and working like sled dogs, the politicians in Washington couldn't decide who the enemy was. Were the good guys the bad guys or were the ones they had come here to kill--the macoutes and the vampires and the tyrants--the bad guys, and after a while it seemed the answer was, well, everybody's a bad guy but work with them anyway.
Source: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.

Murder mysteries are intentionally confusing. The exotic setting Shacochis chooses for his mystery adds to the confusion. To top things off, the title character is a young American woman with enough psychological complexity for her story to more than hold its own against all the other demands on the reader trying to keep the story straight and figure things out.
I won't laugh, Tom promised and instantly her words rushed out into a question that was a type of falling or jumping, although he did not immediately recognize its nature because he had never met a woman anywhere in the world who was so defiantly literal and without irony. Tom wanted her to be cute, a ditz, a sexy ideologue, a glib bitch, a camera junkie, a news hound, a crusader, anything but this--literal and seemingly unschooled and tormented and wrapped as tight as you get before you explode. Do you think it's possible, she began, and with the drop in her voice Tom leaned over to hear her better, for someone to lose their soul?
Source: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.

Explaining just how the woman lost her soul is what this novel is really all about. That takes it far beyond the usual boundaries of the classic crime novel. Shacochis dips into religion and philosophy and psychology. This novel is ambitious. Maybe too much so. The story seems to be just beyond Shacochis's ability to keep it under control. The main story is set aside for long periods to indulge in side stories that don't always lead anywhere that's obviously important. Eventually, all the story lines and characters are brought together and lead to closure, of a sort. But Shacochis has so many loose ends to tie up that the ending is unlikely to completely satisfy many readers. But life is like that, especially when you are dealing with matters of the soul.

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