||by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 196365)
Curbstone Press, $24.95
Reviewed by Bird Cupps (Kenya 198789)
I have to admire any writer willing to go into territory already written about so beautifully and with so much respect as David Guterson has in Snow Falling On Cedars. While Marnie Mueller's content only overlaps partially, I couldn't help but recall Guterson's book. And it's a compliment to Mueller to point out how she, like Guterson, chooses to acknowledge the complexities of history rather than to view the past with the clarity of hindsight, with a point of view that simply condemns our ancestors rather than acknowledges their struggles.
The Climate of the Country tells the story of a W.W.II conscientious objector and his Jewish wife working in the Tule Lake Japanese American Segregation Camp. Conflicts in the camp pit captors against captives, captors against each other, and most tragically, Japanese Americans against Japanese Americans. Protagonist Denton Jordan tries to adhere to his morals until he loses track of them, the principles muddied in more base human impulses. He is a man challenged and thank God for it. Were he to remain a character of irrepressible good, he'd be insufferable.
Carried on by a driving plot
I find it interesting that a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer should write this. The notion that helping others is work fraught with conflict, fraught by no clear path toward righteousness, seems to me to be something known by the doers of such work and not by those who think about doing. I couldnt help but wonder how much of the story here is gleaned from Muellers parents who worked in the real Tule Lake camp. (Marnie was born there.) However, thats probably my bias for nonfiction creeping in. Mueller's parents would probably have a more mundane story, an experience that didnt include a month-long episode filled with plotting, intrigue, erotic encounters, violence, friendships, and so on the sort of stuff that makes a page-turner. And here again, Mueller emulates Guterson. You really cant put this book down for her ability to string along a driving plot.
Complaints? Only small matters: at times I felt the discussions between characters got a little endless. The narrator filled me in on too many of Denton Jordan's thoughts so that those conversations seemed circular, coming around again and again, hashing through the same thought patterns. This left me feeling, at page 200, ready for about 20 more pages instead of 100. But what are such complaints in a world that insists on sound bites and simplistic reasoning?
If only the world were easy. It wasnt in 1942 and it isnt now.
Bird Cupps writes nonfiction because she cant imagine anything more bizarre than reality. She also teaches creative writing at Penn State.