I need distractions today. 9:40 pm tips for Sweet 16 games are complete garbage. Too much waiting. I’ll catch you up on my books to kill a little time.
Finders Keepers – Stephen King.
Book two in his Bill Hodges trilogy moves a little differently than the first. This one spends nearly 150 pages setting up two back stories – one in the 1970s, the other contemporary to book one – before King finally pulls the returning characters in.
Of course the two back stories end up being connected, and soon a murderer released from prison after 30 years is stalking an 18-year-old who stumbled upon the loot he hid away before his incarceration. Bill Hodges and his friends get roped into the case, and are once again racing the clock to save someone from a psychopathic killer.
It’s a brisk read, and honestly, not a super great tale on its own. Where the story sucked me in, though, were in the nuggets King left for book three. The man responsible for the crimes in the first book may not be the brain-damaged vegetable he appears to be. Weird things are happening in his hospital room. Classic, 1970s King weird. If I hadn’t picked up two books I had on hold at the library yesterday, I probably would have gone straight to book three.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals – J. Maarten Troost.
It’s the mid–90s. Troost and his girlfriend are recent college grads struggling to establish careers that don’t feel soulless. As they struggle, their debt piles up. On a whim they decide to chuck it all and head to a tiny island in the Pacific where his girlfriend will run an international aid project and Troost will tag along for the experience.
Thus we end up with this delightful book. Troost shares all that is weird, wacky, and wild about Tarawa, an island in the Kiribati group. Unlike other books I’ve read about traveling through the Pacific, Troost doesn’t just paddle around for a couple days, or pop in-and-out of islands as part of a larger journey. Nope, they spent several years on Tarawa, getting comfortable with the locals and living through all that is frustrating about an island that lies just off the equator and has a shrinking drinking water supply and only periodic electricity. In other words, Tarawa was hot, stinky, and far from the island paradise Troost had in his head.
Troost shares stories of traveling between islands in both planes that are literally held together with masking tape and on boats made of plywood that are being battered by 25-foot waves. Eating food that is almost guaranteed to cause serious digestive issues. Frustrations with local customs foreign to him. Dealing with roving packs of dogs. How the I-Kiribati have no fear of sharks. And the absurdities of foreign aid: medical supplies lie rotting at the airport because no one requested them or they lack the equipment needed to use them; UN officials spend more money on their travel and lodging than on helping the struggling islanders; and efforts to build a local economy are torpedoed by government officials who suck up any profits before they reach the folks doing the work.
Tarawa is a crazy-ass island, but eventually Troost and his wife come to love its rhythms and pace of life. When it comes time to return to the US, only a chance encounter with another American who has been in the Pacific for over 20 years and went native convinces them they should finally head home. But there is a touching twist to the end of their story. After a few years back in the States, in which they both land lucrative careers and are living lives of luxury, they chuck it all to return to Fiji and work in the aid community again. Just before the book ends, their son is born and they decide to raise him in the islands rather than back home.
Troost’s writing is deeply funny. He has a good eye for the ridiculous and is also willing to poke fun at himself. He’s written three more books about his family’s lives in the Pacific and China. They are all now on my (never ending) To Read list.