Tourists at a fancy hotel on an unidentified Caribbean island find their vacation package includes the specter of death as well as skinny-dipping and anonymous sex.
Among the vacationing couples in Dean’s debut novel, which was long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize, are Belgians Jan and Annemieke. Jan has been fighting cancer for six years; it is now terminal. He’s hoping for a reconciliation with his wife at the end of their long, rocky marriage, but Annemieke is more interested in self-gratification. She initiates sex with an unattractive guy named Bill in the massage room and later offers Adam, an English staff member, $150 for sex in her bedroom; she’s 49 and feels opportunity slipping away. The British George and Dorothy Davis are much older; he’s 79, she’s 82. The old-timers bicker constantly, so it’s a surprise when George later says Dorothy is “a good ’un. A pal,” and more of a surprise to learn that she has Alzheimer’s. In one of the novel’s two main episodes, she wanders off dazedly into the countryside. After she’s retrieved, she still manages to pull off plenty of one-liners. The other episode concerns Adam, Annemieke’s stud. After he’s serviced her, she cries rape, and things look bad for the Brit until her earlier fling is revealed. That’s the action, such as it is, but Dean squeezes in several monologues. George confesses to cheating on Dorothy; Jan reveals “a brush with evil” in Belize; and Bill talks of his alcoholism and how it drove his wife to suicide before he turned to God. These monologues are more convincing than are the minor characters, especially the beautiful Chinese woman who wants Jan to elope with her to Paris (where else?) and swear unconditional love as he dies in her arms.
Dean’s grasp of the material is shaky and her voice erratic.