This nearly century-spanning novel traces a story set in Guatemala that explores different Americans' relationships with the country and a mystery involving an American family that winds through the turbulent politics of the century.
Beginning her novel in 1902, Kerney (Born Again, 2006) introduces Evie, an 8-year-old American girl living in Guatemala; her father encounters corruption and violence as he tries to succeed as a wheat farmer in a corn-centric country. Next, the novel moves to 1954 and an American woman, Dorie, wife to a paternalistic U.S. politician, whose affair with her best friend's husband is causing her endless tension. The next section, set in 1983, follows a married missionary couple encountering a country racked by war. The woman, Lenore, starts to question some of the assumptions of her church (and her husband's dominance) as she attempts to convert the desperately poor Mayan population. This section makes some of the most interesting reading of the book. The last portion, set in 1999, follows a lesbian mother, Jean, who takes her adopted daughter on a journey to explore the girl's Guatemalan heritage—and continue her affair with a fiery professor. The threads of the novel are loosely intertwined, so characters from one passage show up in another, and Kerney's main point—that Americans are naïve and relatively ignorant about a people they often see as backward—is well-taken, though at times it seems overdone. The novel is also weighed down by scenes that go on for too long and by glaring incongruities, especially in the first section. It's doubtful that in 1902, wives cried sarcastically to their husbands during arguments, “Hey, why not?,” and it seems unrealistic that a sheltered 1954 American woman would use the f-word so often. The writing is often lazy: “He was handsome in the usual, exotic Hispanic way” is one description. After pages describing one disaster after another, this line appears: “Guatemala was not at all how her parents had told Evie it would be.”
Weighed down by simplistic writing, this ambitious novel's reach exceeds its grasp.