Book: The Anger Meridian
Author: Kaylie Jones
Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby
Kaylie Jones is quite an impressive novelist. Her ‘Anger Meridian’ is a dizzying thriller that blends hackneyed socialite culture with the intrigue of the underworld. The plot barrels through Dallas and Cayman islands before settling in the quaint town of San Miguel, Mexico.
Jones’ characters are definitive and well crafted. They are artificial, cold and predictable. There is little worth in the manipulative Dr Handsome, whose notorious liaisons with affluent women to fund his children hospital leaves nothing to the imagination. And equally unsettling is the predatory behaviour of Calisto who surrenders dignity for a taste of opulence. Here, the life of privilege is not to be envied.
The rueful ruminations of Merryn, a doleful, obsessive, constricted character, prone to psychosomatic dramas, fails to win the sympathy of readers despite being a victim of her husband’s duplicity and excess. Actually, she is no conservative as her bottled sexual impulses erupt with little notice on several occasions. Admittedly she displays genuine sensitivity when Sophia, a stray dog clings to life during labour; “Why am I crying,” Merryn asks herself. The ambien (sleeping pill) is the only explanation she could cough up.
Her mother, Vivienne, also called Bibi, proves the consummate doyenne. She is disdainful; a pitiful drunk who is euphemistically called ‘a heavy social drinker.’ And this mother-daughter dynamic has all the ingredients for a classical case study in abnormal psychology. The neuroses, the denials, the charade, the projections, the self deprecations, and the love-hate interplays are laid bare.
Merryn is weighed down by unreleased anger. And Bibi is unforgiving, overbearing; yet her hapless daughter finds every excuse to forgive her. The verbal assaults rain down, unabated. “Truth be told,” she tells her daughter, “you have never been able to handle anything in your life without my help. What would happen to you, Merryn, if I weren’t here to take care of you?”
And later, “I knew you were never the brightest bulb in the chandelier,” followed by, “I just can’t understand how you are a kin of mine.” She is also unsupportive of her daughter who is suspected of complicity in her deceased husband’s money laundering ring. Bibi snaps, “You do realize you’re probably going to prison. Once the FBI gets a hold of you, they never let go. You are a total nitwit…”
And even man’s best friend comes in for some tongue lashing. “They are so obsequious,” Bibi barks condescendingly. Expectedly, she gets her comeuppance in the end. But so will others, although we are not there when it befalls them.
Amid the chaos, Merryn’s precocious daughter, Tenney, wins our heart. She is sensitive and genuine. We can only hope that she’s not corrupted by the sterility of her ‘guardians.’ Not surprisingly, she will have to shield her mother from a cascade of dark days that lie ahead. “You’re my mom and I’ll always stand up for you..,” she says.
Jones’ work is telling. Well heeled or not, tragedy and the long arm of the law are ever present.
But the crime and all it offers gives way to the constant sparring between mother and daughter, setting the stage for the final curtain that will leave readers aghast. While Merryn has dodged two bullets, her past is never really behind her.
“If good cannot come out of bad things, then what is the point of life?” she hears from the earnest and refreshing Alberto Zaldana, a former priest turned New Age healer. But will Merryn’s life prove this dictum true? While her millions are donated to charitable causes, the questionable source of these funds hangs like an albatross around the necks of patron and recipients, knowingly or unknowingly. This is the sad, undeniable irony of ‘Anger Meridian.’
With overlapping criminal investigations against a blaring psycho-dramatic backdrop, Jones delves into life’s vicissitudes and our coping mechanisms. ’Anger Meridian’ holds our attention with a grey and engaging plot that is expertly and vividly written. But frankly, outside of Tenney, Alberto, and Sophia who inject some humanity to a troubling climate, there is little authenticity to go around; and really nothing to cheer about.
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