House Arrest

Mary Morris, Author
Mary Morris, Author Nan A. Talese $22.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-385-47198-5
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-312-15547-6
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A small Caribbean island whose people are starved for food and freedom is the setting for Morris's fourth novel (after A Mother's Love). Like Morris, who is also a travel writer (Nothing to Declare), protagonist Maggie Conover writes for a travel magazine. She has returned to la isla to update a guidebook she wrote two years earlier. It's a bad idea: during her previous visit, she secretly gave her passport to Isabel Calderon, the outspokenly disenchanted daughter of the dictator, El Caballo, so that Isabel could flee the island in disguise. Maggie's naivete in returning to this totalitarian state is compounded by her behavior after she's arrested and detained in a seedy hotel. Slow to discern the danger of her position, she never contacts the embassy or a lawyer, in spite of her interrogation by a greasy government functionary, and other frightening incidents. Were this the only improbability, the reader might overlook Maggie's passivity, especially since Morris does provide some motivation for her flaky behavior. But it's hard to accept that Isabel, her mother and her daughter each achieve instant emotional intimacy with Maggie, immediately pouring out the stories of their lives in dangerously candid detail. These long, lyric confessions provoke echoes of Isabel Allende, but they lack her magic resonance. In the end, it is not Maggie's story but the claustrophobic atmosphere of a country locked in a dictator's iron grip that the reader will find unforgettable. (May)
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