Friday, January 24, 2014
A Review: A Fox in a Monsoon, by Tricia McMahon
This is the first in a proposed series by the author, but is a stand alone story. It tells of Katarina Thomas, from a ‘conventional’ (and ‘conventionally dysfunctional’) family in Toronto. She spends some time in prison on charges of fraud, and there meets some women from the ‘other side’ of life. When she comes of out prison, disillusioned with life and with her family, and in financial difficulties, she decides to go it alone as a high class, anything-goes call girl, under the name of Callista Fox.
Although marketed as erotica, this book is much more than that. The sex is present and vividly portrayed, but it is not overdone to the point where the reader is bored with blow by blow (no pun intended) descriptions. The book is more about the world in which the protagonist now finds herself, the characters she meets and the social and philosophical underpinnings of sex work in contemporary Canadian society. It is, above all, about Katerina/Callista as she comes to grips with who she is, particularly in relation to her ‘normal’ family. There are strong sex scenes, strong language and depictions of drug use in this book, and it is definitely for the adult reader. Nevertheless, I never felt that the author was just trying to get the reader off, as seems to be the case with so much erotica.
Callista, who is the narrator, is a strong character, quite believable and complex, as are most of the other women presented in the book. Although avoiding caricature, the depiction of the men remains more external than internal. Individual episodes within this novel are very well written: the prison scenes, a miscarriage scene, some of the sex scenes, to name just a few. The overarching story, though, is a little unsatisfying. There are ‘present’ sequences, flashbacks to the past, dream sequences and journal entries. The result of all this was to fragment the story. The timeline became confusing. The temporal relationships between the different sequences were often unclear. In fact, the timeline seemed to me to be entirely wrong, particularly when ‘real time’ events were related to the journal entries. I think the book would have benefited from some further structural editing. The final scenes between Callista and one of her clients during a visit to Paris were entirely unconvincing to me. Callista’s reactions seemed out of proportion and out of character, given all she had endured up to this point. There were times throughout the story when I thought the author was following Callista down the path towards psychosis; I thought for a while that she had finally become psychotic, with paranoid delusions, in Paris. This was apparently not the author’s intention. As a result I found these closing chapters disappointing and unsatisfactory.
In addition to what I perceived as problems with the timeline, there were other technical problems with the book. There were hundreds and hundreds of typographical and grammatical errors in the text. The author used the wrong word on many occasions (for example, ‘descent’ for ‘decent’; ‘immanent’ for ‘imminent’; ‘calliper’ for ‘calibre’). Sometimes I could not work out what she meant (for example, ‘torminously’). She used many other words inappropriately or in an inappropriate context. Some phrases left me scratching my head.
There are strong scenes in the book, some excellent characterisations, and even some good use of language. The dialogue is good and realistic, including some of the ‘accents’ that are used. However, it is in need of some serious editing, at the level of both the structure and the detail. It reads, at best, as a second, and possibly a first, draft. I can see that the author has real strengths and real promise, as does this book. However, in its present state, there is only just enough merit to lift this book to three stars.