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SIAM by Lily Tuck

SIAM

Or the Woman Who Shot a Man

By Lily Tuck

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-87951-723-9
Publisher: Overlook

For her third outing, Tuck (The Woman Who Walked on Water, 1996, etc.) goes to Thailand with a young American couple, both shallow enough to frustrate the reader as much as fulfill the otherwise often witty story they’re a part of. On their wedding night in 1967, James and Claire fly to Bangkok, where James works for JUSMAAG (Joint United States Military Assistance Advisory Group) building airstrips in the jungle at Nakhan Phanom. When he’s away doing this, the highly intelligent but excruciatingly inert Claire tries to busy herself with training the household servants (the young man Prachi must keep leaves out of the swimming pool), reading Thai history, going on tours with other JUSMAAG wives, taking language lessons—and obsessing about what really happened to Jim Thompson, the 61-year-old American silk zillionaire who now, just days after having James and Claire as dinner guests at his palatial house, has disappeared without a trace, said by some to be lost in the jungle, by others to have been snatched by the communists, and thought by Claire herself (though not until story’s end) to have been kidnaped by the Americans themselves for some invidious reason vaguely connected with the growing war next door in Vietnam. As he has from page one, her new husband and egregious male chauvinist pig James denigrates and belittles this and any other ideas that Claire may have’so that her paranoia-cum-truth only festers in her own mental hothouse. Since not much more happens (aside from the event telegraphed by the book’s subtitle—though even why that happens will puzzle the thoughtful), readers are left with little more than exotic atmosphere—which Tuck excels at, as she does also at Third World squalor—and a building sense of the portentous without any final payoff. Deft, incisive, colorful, but by and large a tale only of echoes.