Saturday, June 30, 2012

REVIEW: The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry


The Earthquake Machine tells the story of 14 year-old Rhonda. On the outside, everything looks perfect in Rhonda's world but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manipulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda's life is her family's Mexican yardman, Jesús. But when the INS deports Jesús back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation.

Determined to find her friend Jesús, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Boquillas, Mexico. There a peyote-addled bartender convinces her she won't be safe traveling alone into the country's interior. So with the bartender's help, Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jesús.

Thus begins a wild adventure that explores the borders between the United States and Mexico, adolescence and adulthood, male and female, English and Spanish, and adult coming-of-age and Young Adult novels.

Paperback, 326 pages
Published September 2011 by AuthorHouse
ISBN 1456795856 (ISBN13: 9781456795856)

About the Author
bio from her website

Mary Pauline Lowry joined a Hotshot Crew of forest firefighters, traveling the American west with a band of 20 men, digging fireline alongside raging forest fires during the day, sleeping in the ash at night.

Working a night shift on the 20,000 acre Laid Low fire in the mountains of the Angeles National Forest, Mary looked at the fire moving over the mountains like lava, at the city of Los Angeles far below illuminated with the light of a million streetlamps. She looked around her at the strong, sweaty, beautiful, ash-covered men working beside her. And she decided then that she would write a book about these Gods of Fire.

Laid off with the rest of her crew after the end of her first fire season, she went to Costa Rica, river rafting through the rainforest outside of La Fortuna, sea kayaking in the Pacific Ocean outside of Montezuma, and diving off of waterfalls until the money ran out and she returned home to Austin to work at her local indie bookstore.

After her second fire season, she finished her first novel, The Gods of Fire. Mary threw her tent in her car and headed for southwest Colorado. She rented a basement room at the Desert Rose Horse Ranch. Before dawn she wrote her second novel, The Earthquake Machine. During the day she did trim carpentry, framed houses, and built fences with a giant, bearded Viking of a man named David who taught her to be a carpenter.

Next Mary found work at a domestic violence shelter, helping the women and children she came to think of as “the forgotten ones.” Fleeing violent men had left these women homeless and there were rarely enough resources to get them truly back on their feet.  Mary did what she could for the women and children, cried every time she finished a shift, and spent her days off work polishing The Earthquake Machine, sending The Gods of Fire to agents and editors in faraway New York City, and running on mountain trails.

When she moved back to Austin, she wrote during the day and worked the night shift on the National Domestic Violence Hotline where she helped over 25,000 survivors of domestic violence seek safe shelter and a better life.

The Gods of Fire didn’t sell. So Mary walked onto a plane and flew back to Los Angeles for the first time since that Laid Low Fire. But this time she went straight to Hollywood where she convinced Bill Mechanic (producer of films such as Fight Club, Braveheart, The Titanic, and Coraline) to option The Gods of Fire for film.

Mary then wrote the screenplay, which is currently out with directors.

Mary’s agent didn’t want to send out The Earthquake Machine to editors. The book was perhaps too edgy. Editors would be afraid to take a chance on such a wild ride. And so Mary decided to give readers a chance to find her. 

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My Thoughts
Everything in Rhonda's house was beige. Beige rooms, beige couch, beige table and chairs.
Rhonda lives a privileged, but very unhappy life, as a teenager in a home with two parents who have a chasm between them. Her father is thoughtless and self-absorbed, her mother teetering on the brink of insanity. After tragedy strikes, Rhonda throws herself into the Rio Grande and emerges in Mexico as a Mexican boy named Angel.

This is probably the toughest review I've ever done. That is because I really wanted to love this one. I really liked the author, aspects of the synopsis really intrigued me, and therefore I really wanted to love this story. But I just didn't.

The book used a very strange moth/sex metaphor to describe an encounter with an older man, and I don't think that I ever really got the metaphor.
She exploded and dissolved into the night and nothing remained but her musky moth smell. (p. 34)
And in a strange twist, after finishing this book I read another book for a book tour that was about a girl named Moth. What is it suddenly with moths??

But back to the story. Then her feelings toward this man Mansk turned violent, and I began to think she was a little nutty.
She imagined plunging the knifeblade into one of Mansk's eyes. Rhonda wanted the blade to sink through to the soft gray squiggles of his brain. More than that she wanted to be without a moth, or a traitorous moth's head. (p. 36)
 It began to appear that she hated her own "impending womanhood" and wanted to escape her doom.

Then at about 40 pages in, the story took a really strange twist and became like a psychedelic ride. And then soon after peyote entered the picture and things got really weird. The story maintained this very over-the-top and maniacal feel up to the town of Arrazola, like a three day peyote trip and vision quest. Once Arrazola is found, suddenly she is reborn again as a girl and a quiet peacefulness settles in.
...she remembered lying in her tent, watching Mansk clean up. She had wanted to eat his eyes like grapes, to crack his chest and roll around inside of him, to gobble him down. And the disappointment at not being able to do so had been part of what had driven her across the river. (p. 135) 
Angel could feel faith and belief settling down into the black hole in her heart. (p. 134)
A calm feeling, a sense that she didn't have to understand everything right at that moment passed through her. (p.135)
And after the story takes another tragic twist, she once again starts to sound a little crazy to me. Suddenly the man she was previously wanting to plunge her knife into and "eat his eyes like grapes" was her star-crossed lover.
She thought of Mansk and knew now that there was desire between them and a passion of agony; and also the age difference between them perhaps wasn't entirely insurmountable. (p. 172)
And then in the next paragraph she is talking about sinking her knife into his eye again. I swear the girl is psychotic!

Much of the story was disjointed and fragmented. Often ideas were linked together in a weird way and didn't flow fluid, leaving it feeling clunky and awkward. And the story was rampant with sexuality. Sex was a big focus of fascination and confusion for Rhonda/Angel, and in the end she determines it is her power. It was definitely too sexualized for the younger YA crowd, and should be strictly NC-17 for most kids.

Not all of it was bad or uncomfortable. There were moments I loved her descriptive writing. bleach out her wild lipstick-red daughter and the deep purple bruises of her sadness. (p. 7)
She followed the river, walking with its current, envying the cactus she passed for their thorns. (p. 44)
But then the ebook ended quite abruptly at 211 pages, although Goodreads shows that the paperback as 326 pages long. So I don't know what is up with that. But the ending was rather unexpected and odd.

My final word: So I wanted to be wowed by this story, and in the end I was left simply "blah". Not bad, not good. But many others are giving it quite good reviews, so perhaps it was just a poor fit for me, and maybe it would be the perfect fit for you!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosure:I received an ebook version of this book for review from the author, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

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