Monday, February 16, 2015
The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli
Published February 2015 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
On a small, unnamed coral atoll in the South Pacific, a group of troubled dreamers must face the possibility that the hopes they’ve labored after so single-mindedly might not lead them to the happiness they feel they were promised.
Ann and Richard, an aspiring, Los Angeles power couple, are already sensing the cracks in their version of the American dream when their life unexpectedly implodes, leading them to brashly run away from home to a Robinson Crusoe idyll. Dex Cooper, lead singer of the rock band, Prospero, is facing his own slide from greatness, experimenting with artistic asceticism while accompanied by his sexy, young, and increasingly entrepreneurial muse, Wende. Loren, the French owner of the resort sauvage, has made his own Gauguin-like retreat from the world years before, only to find that the modern world has become impossible to disconnect from. Titi, descendant of Tahitian royalty, worker, and eventual inheritor of the resort, must fashion a vision of the island’s future that includes its indigenous people, while her partner, Cooked, is torn between anarchy and lust.
In 2010, I read and loved Soli's The Lotus Eaters. So when I say I wanted to love this book, it's not just a cliche. Like that book, The Last Good Paradise brings together a large cast of characters in magnificent setting rife with historical drama.
In The Lotus Eaters, the setting (Vietnam) and its history played a pivotal role in the story. Here, while the Polynesian history was at the heart of the story, it seemed muddled by the large cast of characters. In fact, it was sometimes hard to figure out who was to be the center of the book. It never seemed to become entirely clear to me.
What's worse, was that I could never make myself care about any of the characters, except Titi. She was the only person whose situation was not of her own making and who remained true to her character throughout the book without compromising. The others? Perhaps Soli was trying to make the point of the scorpion - it is their nature. Nothing that happened to most of the characters truly changed them despite frequent indications that it might. But if that's not going to happen, why go to the bother of giving us so much of their back story?
For other opinions about The Last Good Paradise, check out the full TLC tour.
TATJANA SOLI is a novelist and short story writer. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, was the winner of the James Tait Black Prize, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the LA Times Book Award. Her critically acclaimed second novel The Forgetting Tree was also a New York Times Notable book . Her stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Boulevard, and The Sun, and have been listed in Best American Short Stories. She lives with her husband in Southern California.