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Draining the Sea Hardcover – March 13, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Marcom (Three Apples Fell from Heaven; The Daydreaming Boy) looks at the Guatemalan civil war through the eyes of a former American soldier complicit in the killing of civilians in this circuitous novel. As the unnamed narrator, a descendant of Armenian genocide survivors, drives through Los Angeles and goes through his daily routines, he's awash in memories, mostly about Marta, an Ixil prostitute whom the narrator both loved and possibly killed. In a florid stream of consciousness, the narrator continually revisits several themes, events and images: black flies, Marta's brother's murder, Marta's torture and death among them. Throughout, Marcom weaves references and imagery from religion, mythology and Guatemalan, Armenian and American history, and indicts the powers-that-be for turning a blind eye toward the slaughter of indigenous people. Though some may find that Marcom overly romanticizes Ixil life and is ham-fisted in her critique of American consumerism, the novel's evocative imagery and explicit prose can move as well as chill. In the end, though, the book is more demanding than enlightening. (Mar.)
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Marcom’s acclaimed previous novels, Three Apples Fell from Heaven (2001) and The Daydreaming Boy (2004), explored the reverberations of the Armenian genocide in the blurred memories and fantasies of her protagonists. Again emphasizing the persistence of atrocity, her latest novel explores the psyche of a man haunted by a young Mayan girl who was brutally killed in the Guatemalan civil war. Although our protagonist knew some sort of love with the innocent Marta, and his mind continues to revisit real or imagined encounters, his apparent complicity in her horrifying torture and murder stains his memories with a sad longing that may or may not properly be called guilt. The feeling is intensified by the contrast between our protagonist’s dead and solitary life of freeways, television, and sanitized food in Los Angeles and the vibrant, if simple, patterns of life in Guatemala. We learn that our protagonist’s mother was scarred by the Armenian genocide. Although her unsubtle condemnation of American actions in Latin America makes this work somewhat more political than her previous ones, Marcom’s unique proficiency in describing souls infected by the viral contagion of violence is again on full display. --Brendan Driscoll