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THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE by Ellen Sussman

THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE

By Ellen Sussman

Pub Date: March 26th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-52281-8
Publisher: Ballantine

Two damaged people reach tentatively toward healing after the 2002 terrorist bombing in Bali.

Jamie, 32, an adventure travel guide has, against all warnings from friends and family, returned to Bali despite the fact that she is still traumatized by being caught up in the nightclub bombings a year before. (Miguel, her would-be fiance, died; she sustained injuries, including a facial scar.) Her main purpose: to find Gabe, a 40-something man who helped care for her after the disaster, whom she left abruptly a year before. The middle section, narrated by Gabe, reveals that his own trauma began years before the terrorist attacks. A former Boston journalist, Gabe was preoccupied with a deadline when his 4-year-old son Ethan was hospitalized for meningitis. After Ethan’s death, Gabe’s marriage falls apart, and guilt-ridden, he gives up journalism to become a teacher in Bali, where he’s also embraced the lifestyle of the loner expat. Dining with a surfer friend one night, he hears an explosion and runs to the site of two nightspots which are in flames. There, he rescues Jamie, but at her urging, and even after she is injured by falling debris, both return to pull several more survivors out of the wreckage. In the ensuing chaos, Gabe wangles prompt medical treatment for Jamie and cares for her at a friend’s beach cottage until she can get a flight out. Though Jamie has managed to thaw the iceberg that is his heart, he’s thrust back into isolation when Jamie leaves without explanation. A year later, Jamie is back, but Gabe refuses to be fooled twice. Echoing Bali’s difficult recovery from the cataclysm, the characters tread the difficult terrain of post-traumatic attachment. Although the seascapes and street life of Bali are appealingly presented, Sussman’s approach to her characters' emotional lives is as restrained and muted as their disassociated response to their ordeal. Dramatic tension suffers as a result.

A respectful and earnest but far from edgy treatment of devastation’s aftermath.