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Departure Lounge Paperback – April 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This enigmatic noir thriller from New Zealand author Taylor (Heaven) opens on a friendly pool game between disarming narrator Mark Chamberlain and property developer Rory Jones at an Auckland billiards parlor. After the two men part company, Chamberlain admits, "the following night I broke into his apartment and stole everything that wasn't nailed down." Chamberlain, we learn, is a professional burglar. In the apartment, to his surprise, he discovers that Jones is the father of Caroline May, a high school classmate who disappeared many years earlier. Taylor brilliantly interweaves clues concerning Caroline's disappearance, including some implicating Chamberlain himself, with the thief's insightful reflections on appearance and reality. The narrator's secret criminal life comes under threat of exposure after someone slips an old poster seeking information about Caroline into his apartment. Taylor, who compares favorably with Russell Banks and Paul Auster, should appeal to readers who appreciate sophisticated plots and fully human characters. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
New Zealand author Taylor (Shirker, 2000) is a stylish writer of noir novels who has been compared to Ross Macdonald. But his seductive command of the language and his elegiac tone more closely recall Thomas McGuane. In eloquently precise prose, Taylor evokes the life of small-time thief Mark Chamberlain. The night he invades the home of the parents of Caroline May is the night his carefully regimented schedule begins to unravel. He is deeply shaken upon seeing the room that has been kept as a shrine to the girl who went missing decades ago at the age of 14. In successive, elliptical flashbacks, his relationships with Caroline and with her best friend, Varina, are revealed, as is his obsession with finding out what happened. It is rumored that she was on a plane that crashed in Antarctica but, in the final analysis, it is impossible to know what really happened, prompting feelings of longing and ennui in those who have been left behind. Vivid characters and mesmerizing language contribute to the moody atmosphere. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Author Chad Taylor has a way with words and manages to keep the reader absorbed in his scenes and characters while tantalizing with the lack of resolution. That seems to be his point. Ultimately what we see is what we think we see. We'll never know for sure. For readers like myself, accustomed to a definitive plot, this is frustrating.
This is a well written book with flashes of brilliance, marred, unfortunately, by a number of typos. If you like atmospheric novels with more questions than answers, you'll love Departure Lounge. If you're more comfortable with action and plot, this might not be the book for you. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber
This is a well-written, intriguing mystery about a vanished girl that held my attention to the end. At that point the author reveals that he has no solution to the mystery, and tries to make up for it with some crap philosophy about how nothing is really knowable. Reader feels burned by an author doing only half a job.
Things start off quite promisingly in a pool hall, as Mark and a crooked real estate developer shoot some stick and chat. Soon thereafter, Mark breaks into the man's apartment and steals everything not nailed down. It seems that Mark is ostensibly a petty thief, to whom breaking and entering and looting come as naturally as breathing. However, it doesn't take long to learn that Mark isn't overly concerned about getting paid by his fence. What interests him is the act itself, and the glimpse it offers into people's private lives. His quasi-ennui is linked to the disappearance, two decades ago, of a girl he fooled around with as a teenager.
Caroline May is the girl went missing and whose body was possibly recovered from a plane wreck (recall that in the '70s, domestic air travel did not require the stringent identification procedures now employed). However, the matter was never truly resolved, and the lack of closure seems to have haunted Mark since then. Two other supporting characters from Mark 's past also seem to bear a great deal of existential weight from Caroline's disappearance. The problem is that the reader barely encounters Caroline and isn't shown anything about her that explains why her disappearance had such a lasting effect. One reviewer compared the book to some of Paul Auster's work, and I have to concur that it has the same frustrating lack of substance -- the impression of meaningfulness rather than actual meaningfulness -- that I get when I read Auster. I slogged through to the end, but found that even more disappointing than all that came before. However, if you like elliptical, ethereal books and aren't overly concerned with plot, narrative tension, character development, or resolution, then you might enjoy it.
Narrator Mark Chamberlain tells a mesmerizing story, reminiscing about events from 1979, when Caroline vanished, and creating vivid scenes, full of the kinds of precise visual details that a troubled teenager would remember. The reader comes to know Caroline, Mark, and their friends through these reminiscences, which are presented in lightning-like flashes--often brief and without obvious transitions--after which Mark spontaneously returns to thoughts about his life in 2001. Gradually, the reader becomes part of Mark's thinking, recognizing the irrationality of his teenage years but also noting the irrationality of his adult life, as he breaks into homes and tries to connect with people who knew Caroline as he did. How much of what he "remembers" is real and how much is illusion is an open question.
Other characters are also haunted by Caroline--her parents; Harry Bishop, the detective who was in charge of her search; and Varina Sumich, Caroline's best friend. As Harry, now retired, quietly tails Mark, recently released from jail, he sees parallels between himself and Mark and connects them to Caroline's disappearance. Varina Sumich, Caroline's best friend, a swimmer in high school, still seeks refuge in solitary long distance swims at night twenty years later. Regarding Caroline, she comments, "We're all still in love."
As the past and present merge in this novel, some readers will be reminded of the work of Paul Auster. The story flows seamlessly from present to past and back again, and the main character's thoughts reflect the universal concerns and fears of someone trying to survive a prolonged adolescence and learn who he is. An exhibition of twenty-two-year-old photographs from the scene of the plane crash in Antarctica leads to the climax for Mark, Varina, and Harry Bishop, though some readers will find the ending emotionally incomplete. A well-written noir novel (not a pop thriller), which raises questions about reality and how we perceive it, Departure Lounge is a complex visual and psychological study of one lost character who wants to take control of his life. n Mary Whipple