May 14, 2009 at 3:38 pm #224
A tropical paradise provides an exotic home for two ex-pat teachers. He buys
a resort. She takes a job teaching only to have one of her troubled students run
away. Then guests known to her from the past arrive.
The three main protagonists run away from painful pasts to seek acceptance
and belonging. Two teachers escape to North Caicos and a teenager from the Caicos
escapes to Canada. All three discover that running away was just one step on the way
to wholeness.May 22, 2009 at 4:45 pm #309
I will review this book.June 19, 2009 at 5:54 pm #310
In Leaving Paradise, author Donna Wooton examines the larger themes of emigration and happiness. She compares the lives of three characters: the main character Susan, and two minor characters Tijean and Susan’s love interest Ian. The story takes place on the Turks & Caicos Islands. Susan, a Canadian school teacher, emigrates to this paradise and teaches at the local high school. When Tijean, a troubled student runs away, Susan blames herself and strives to rectify the situation.
Wooton persuasively demonstrates that a person emigrates only when refusing to deal with one’s problems. Fortunately, time and distance often helps a person to manage and develop a solution. Either the core of the problem follows a person, or increasingly severe alternative forms force a person towards learning the necessary lesson. Only Susan has her past follow her in the form of two Canadian tourists, forcing her to deal with her past. Tijean’s emigration provides solutions in a seamless manner that implies that his emigration was the right path. Although Ian’s reason for emigration is questioned, Ian ignores the question. In the end, his past takes him back to where the problem occurred. Enough time has passed that the past is never an issue.
This book also examines happiness through the lives of these three characters. For Susan, happiness is in the present: freedom to teach small classes; no cooking or cleaning for herself or others; a scooter to ride which requires no real exercise, especially on hills; sailboating where someone else does all the work and even provides a picnic lunch; swimming in a pool rather than in the shark-invested ocean; and a perfect male partner who never demands sex, always listens, prods gently at the right time, always understands, comes into a lots of money and willing shares his wealth unquestionably. For Tijean, happiness is an action, doing something he loves to do. For Ian, happiness is home called Nova Scotia and a luxury car.
Wooton drives the plot using Tijean who runs away. But this motivational force appears contrived. When Susan first hears the news of the student’s disappearance, she shows lack of concern with a shrug and a what-ever attitude. Over time the author tries to build Susan’s concern which supposedly influences Susan enough to leave paradise to try to influence the troubled boy to come home. For some reason, Susan feels it her fault the boy has run away. The author points out Susan’s perception that the boy’s mother blames her for her son’s inability, and Susan’s readiness to take the blame. Taking the blame for something outside of one’s control usually demonstrates immaturity and an incorrect perception of control.
Susan’s overwhelming need to influence Tijean’s return to the island implies she has had some impact on Tijean in the past. The parts written from Tijean’s point of view never hint at a relationship with Susan. The actions Susan takes are not credible when compared to her initial reaction to Tijean’s departure, and her past relationship with the student. Susan’s need to find the boy appears lame. In fact, the outcome of the boy’s future could have been dealt with by a phone call from the school’s special needs coordinator. The narrative drive of Leaving Paradise is not believable.
The lack of narrative drive then isolates the descriptive paragraphs, recollections and dialogues. For example, writer Donna Wooton describes in great detail Susan drying off after getting out of the shower. But there is no reason or drive behind this scene. No cancerous mole is found. No criminal charges into the bathroom. No Ian to rush in on her telling her of an emergency phone call from Tijean. Time and time again, I wondered why the author is telling me this.
Recollections were poorly handled with bad transitions. Often it seemed like a memory was inserted only because it was something the writer wanted to include, and the writer concluded that this would be the best spot for it. But often the transitions into and out of a recollection didn’t work. Nor did the recollection have a narrative drive. For example, social analysis of dinner parties, or the alphabetizing of a test papers before marking, or the peak energy consumption hours back home in Canada. These scenes may illustrate character development but drag heavily in the details and length. Susan wondered if memories coming back from childhood are a sign of middle age or coming menopause. In this case I doubt it; I believe these overwhelming and plentiful memories are a sign of too much free time. Living in a paradise with Susan’s conveniences would create a lot of spare time.
Inconsistencies appeared in sequencing and characterizations. For example Susan stops her motor on her scooter and daydreams. Then suddenly she awakes and swerves to avoid potholes, an inconsistency in sequencing. When we first meet Tijean who later runs away, he is described as a boy who loved routine and hated disruption. Suddenly he develops wanderlust in some unknown way, which is also being fed, until he runs away. Contradictory, so much so, I believe this to be a flaw in Tijean’s character development. I also noticed inconsistencies in Susan’s character. At one point the character describes herself as a good listener and counsellor. Then two pages later she insults Tijean’s parents, and reprimands herself for being unable to remain level-headed, and then feels slighted. It’s Tijean’s parents who should feel slighted, at the very least! Susan also asks yes or no questions. All these are definitely not characteristics of a good listener and counsellor. Are these flaws in character development or a middle-age character who is still confused about her abilities?
One minor character nailed the book’s weak point. Sam, the vet, says, “Holy Mother of Joseph, I’ve only just been introduced to you and now you’re lecturing me.” Throughout, Wooton lectures the reader with detailed facts just like a teacher would do in a classroom. I found this tedious. Interesting but tedious with the reoccurring question of why is she telling me this?
Although entitled Leaving Paradise, we never hear the details of those last couple of days of packing, arranging affairs, saying farewells, and the actual departure from the island. Throughout the book, Wooton emphasized the wonders of paradise and Susan’s happiness. If the main character is leaving paradise, we should experience the double-edges of regret and anticipation in the final exit.
Leaving Paradise demonstrates proven ability to describe, educate, and dialogue. But these elements must be threaded with a believable narrative drive that engages the reader and proves credible.
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