Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Book Review-The Four Corners Of The Sky by Michael Malone

Annie Samantha Peregrine-Goode spent her early life dragged around motels by her ne’er-do-well father always one step ahead of his dubious associates as well as the police. On her seventh birthday, he drives her to his family home, Pilgrim’s Rest, now owned and lived in by his older sister Sam. He tells Annie that her birthday present is in the barn and drives away, leaving the bereft child to crawl into the seat of ‘The King of The Sky’ a Piper Warrior that has seen better days and dream of the time he will come back for her.

But Jack Peregrine doesn’t come back, although he apparently keeps in infrequent touch with his sister who always forgives him for his criminal ways and his neglect of his daughter.  Annie is brought up at Pilgrim’s Rest by Sam, and her friend, paediatrician Dr Clark Goode, the closest thing she has for parents.

As a tribute to her father whom she tries hard to hate unsuccessfully, Annie joins the navy and becomes one of their best test pilots.  She marries the only other pilot in the force better than her, but after finding him in the arms of another woman, instigates a divorce. On her twenty-sixth birthday, Annie returns to Pilgrim’s Rest just before a tornado hits, and receives a plea from her father. Jack is dying and he must see her again. He’s also in trouble, and she must fly ‘The King Of The Sky’ to St Louis, and bring the possessions he left behind with her; among which are a large emerald on a chain, money, bank cards, passports in various names and two combinations of numbers.

As a reader, I got to this point believing tough, independent, pragmatic Annie, who refused to even talk to Jack when he made a flying visit to Pilgrim’s Rest when she was seventeen, would tell him to go take a hike.  Not Annie, who may express her sense of abandonment and don’t-care attitude to anyone who will listen, but she has deeply buried insecurities she believes can be sorted out by her father alone. One being - who was her mother, known to her only by the name, ‘Claudette Colbert’ on her birth certificate. Where did he get the emerald, and a ruby he sent her when she was seventeen? And was there really ever a gold statue of the Virgin Mary rescued by her ancestor from a sunken ship?

Annie takes off for St Louis in the tail end of a hurricane in ‘The King of The Sky’ just after her soon- to- be-former husband arrives to win her back. Disloyally, Sam calls Brad to keep him apprised of Annie's movements – something she often does in an attempt to get them back together again.  I imagined Brad has no chance, but Annie is herself a paradox and maybe I’m completely wrong about that too.

To reveal more of the plot would spoil this intriguing story, but I would point out that on many levels it’s a good read that comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

On the other hand – there is a lot of padding - inserted to explain Annie’s dysfunctional family life before Sam and Clark took over, her aunt’s lesbian background and the failure of a long-term relationship which left Sam bereft. Clark’s two marriages are less complicated, as is his determination to be a conscientious parent to Annie, whom he loves to distraction.

The format of the writing can be frustrating, in that there are lengthy and frequent flashbacks in precise detail containing snippets of dialogue from old movies used as communication between Sam, Annie and Clark, domestic rituals, private jokes and accounts of what their two dogs are doing which tends to slow the pace of the plot. There is also the author’s habit of not using the character’s names, instead describing them as, ‘The tall man,’ [Clark] The grey-haired older woman, [Sam], the plump young woman, [Georgette], the cinnamon-skinned musician [Raffy] you get the picture.

There are so many plot devices–this novel resemble three episodes of the Gilmore Girls on speed -  If you can get to grips with the constant back-and-forth, readers will enjoy this chequered and sometimes chaotic account of an unconventional  family with secrets and a mystery where history does indeed play a major part.

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