Do Not Be Afraid by Maile Meloy (Riverhead Books, 2017)
reviewed by staff member, Karen
Just the title of Maile Meloy’s new novel gets my adrenaline going. Do Not Become Alarmed. It’s like when my son calls home and says, “I’m okay.” That’s the good news, what comes next? In Meloy’s hands, a lot.
Thirty-something cousins Liv and Nora book their families – two husbands, four kids between them - on a cruise down the California coast to Mexico and Central America for their winter holidays. The young children love the all-you-can-eat buffet, the pre-teens love the freedom to roam, and the husbands plan an off-the-ship golfing excursion. But after a series of misfortunes, the children somehow disappear.
Meloy, who is the author of one previous novel, a brilliant collection of short stories, and a middle grade series for children called The Apothecary, presents a “very smart work of literary fiction that exposes how very thin the layer of good luck is that keeps most of us from falling into the abyss,” according to NPR’s Maureen Corrigan
The book’s epigraph is a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Americans learn only from catastrophe, and not from experience.” Roosevelt learned some of his American lessons on a river in South America, which is a fitting parallel for the lessons these American families are about to learn. As they all disembark, Liv claims the unnamed country they are entering is “the Switzerland of Latin America,” which was about when my heart started beating double-time. “The country turns out to be not very Swiss at all, but frighteningly chaotic and sinisterly foreign; you read on with mounting dread, as well as excitement, for it’s impossible not to relish the skill with which Meloy ratchets up the tension,” says Julie Myerson of The Guardian.
Meloy’s intense and powerful fiction shows us how quickly a crisis changes everyone’s priorities. The story is told through the voice of parents and children as they blame themselves and then each other for their situations. The title, Do Not Be Alarmed, is meant as irony. There is much to be alarmed at in this world. Meloy weaves a tale that includes more than one disturbing scene, and touches on just about every hot topic, from privilege, race, guilt, and envy, to the dilemmas of modern parenthood, and the challenge of living up to our own expectations.
Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth, State of Wonder, and Bel Canto blurbs, “This is the book that every reader longs for: smart and thrilling and impossible to put down. Read it once at breakneck speed to find out what happens next, and then read it slowly to marvel at the perfect prose and the masterwork of a plot. It is an alarmingly good novel
Corrigan concludes “You may (mistakenly) think that you don’t want to enter the nightmare world of this novel, but Meloy makes you realize what a luxury it is to have that choice.”
Join us Wednesday, October 27 at 6:15 pm at Writer's Block Bookstore to discuss Maile Meloy's "Do Not Become Alarmed!"
This review originally ran in the October, 2017 issue of Winter Park Living magazine.
From a beloved, award-winning writer, the much-anticipated novel about what happens when two families go on a tropical vacation—and the children go missing.