(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 12, 2005)
"He was beginning to understand that Alden was a girl who had a lot of problems distinct from the one at the center of everything. Maybe the one big problem that Lux felt responsible for had fractured into a starburst of sister disasters. He'd had the same thing happen to him. His freezing syndrom had spawned a mirror ball of incidents and difficulties. That was the usual."
The problem at the center of everything is the fact that Alden Warren's less than perfect husband has been missing for two years. Because he disappeared right after they were married, the local police force nicknamed her “Miss Bride Interrupted.” She does not know if Monty is alive or dead. Did he run off with Penelope Griffen, the woman that he was working with -- the one that seemed to have so much more in common with him? But how does that explain that his valued butterfly collection was left behind at the bus stop. Certainly, we as the reader feel her frustration that not enough has been done to find her husband.
Alden goes about her day-to-day life living on the remote eastern end of Cape Cod, or "Outer Cape." She works in the gift shop for the Cape Cod National Seashore, and does volunteer work for the Audobon Society collecting information on bird sightings. And she also volunteers for the Council on Aging, delivering meals to the shut-in seniors. This is how she met Hyram, "a noted conservationist with full credentials" and a ladies man now reduced to having Alden tape patches on his eyes and handing him nitrol patches to control his angina. Their relationship has turned into a strong friendship, one of the few that she has. "All of a sudden, Hyram was in her life. Who had adopted whom no longer seemed to matter." Hyram is an activist for envrionmental issues and is currently organizing a second offshore "sit-in" to protest the controversial Boston Harbor outfall pipe.
Besides, not knowing if her husband left her (as most of the police tend to believe) or was the victim of foul play, Alden's main grief is that she has not yet been approved to be a foster parent because her "marital status remains unconfirmed." It is when she is on duty to pick up seagull corpses at the Orleans traffic circle -- the one with the landscaped "quitting time clock" that she is witness to an accident that ends up giving her hope. Alden goes to the car that has just plowed into "the clock" and finds a young woman who has been thrown out of the driver seat that has "nostrils glittered with gold soot." She understands why when she sees a Krylon spray paint can roll out of the car. Layla Cox is well known with the police department from other "off season incidents." Alden sights Layla's toddler in the back seat and unbelts him. She cares for him while they await the ambulance. She's hoping that they'll let her take the baby home, but since her paperwork isn't approved yet, they say she can't. Obsessed, she wants "Baby Hendrick" and the events of this story take a strange twist as Alden pursues her foster parent quest.
Lux Davis, whose main job is green sculpturer with a landscape company, is invisibly in love with Alden, to the point that his activity could be considered stalking but its even more odd and tender than that. Lux is known by the locals for his strange affliction; panic or stresses causes his whole body to freeze up, a neurological condition that he has had since childhood. This can happen anywhere at anytime and Lux spends much of his time avoiding people and situations so that it doesn't attract attention. The cause of this morning's "Novocain effect" as he tries to sip his Starbucks coffee are the instructions that Mr. Nickerson, is giving to dig up a line of hemlocks and cedars that weren't supposed to be touched for another five years. The trees were originally reserved for a contractor in Yarmouth, who wanted mature trees but another contractor has outbid for the trees and Lux and his fellow crew members are told to start digging them up in the next week.
This is bad for Lux because this is where he has buried a body. Lux knows he has to go talk to his sister-in-law about this situation and get her advice. Lux lives with his seafaring brother and sister-in-law, and their two kids. While his brother is out fishing for weeks at a time, Lux shares his sister-in-law's bed. Lux has one main friend that also knows about the buried body, nicknamed "Robustus." Whereas his sister-in-law is reluctant to have anything more to do with this situation, Lux's friend King is only too happy to help out. King is another local oddball and has already had his own troubles with the law. For a backup, Lux gets Tindle his Cape Cod Community College ("the Four Cs") professor and AA sponsor to lend his truck.
Like Alden, Lux also holds a several jobs in order to make ends meet -- one of those was as bus driver. Alden first meets Lux while waiting for her husband at the bus stop. After Monty is "lost," Alden seems to see Lux everywhere and "more often, out of nowhere, his face was superimposed on mental snapshots of her husband. These double exposures warred, but the bus driver never completely dissolved away." Alden senses that Lux is attracted to her and she finds that when it is time to pull a revenge prank, Lux is the person she calls.
Just like its characters, Lux is a complicated and unconventional story. The initial tension comes from wondering about the body Lux has buried and why it is there. It's fairly clear early on who the body is but we don't know why it is buried. Later the story's tautness occurs when Alden and Lux form a friendship and one wonders what will happen when Alden realizes who Lux really is. Finally, the story agitates to an unexpected close when Alden acts out her foster parenting need. But mostly this is a quiet read where we just go along with the author to see where it leads.
Maria Flook captures but does not analyze that thing about a community of people who make up the behind the scenes fringe of any resort area -- the ones with the low paying jobs who are just getting by but without them the more well off would not be able to enjoy their vacations and second homes. These are the people who actually hang out at the seedy bars, they are the residents still living there in the off season. But this isn't just any resort location, it is firmly embedded on Cape Cod capturing the things that are most unique to this spit of land, such as the environmental issues and its history. It is not by chance that Lux’s boss is named Nickerson – if you visit the Cape (and you don't have to go all the way to Orleans) you'll find the name associated with just about any business. I found it amusing that Flook has Lux do the exact same "outdoor" jobs that Carl's brother has held over the years (and in the same part of the Cape), including ice delivery. She also portrays the contrast that aren’t unique to the Cape but endemic for any place that attracts the rich. The locals who need to work several jobs, even the police moonlight, while the off-Cape residents design double swimming pools (fresh water and salt water), their excessiveness ultimately keeping the locals employed.
I liked this book. Flook's writing is a pleasure to read. Though the story is a bit disjointed, there are no loose ends by the time we get to the end. We are sympathetic to the characters, even when frustrated with their choices. But I guess that is exactly how I feel about real life (dysfuntional) people in my own life. And, I liked the setting. But, truly, it is the writing that makes me want to recommend this book.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Sea Room
- Reckless Wedding: Poetry (1982)
- Family Night (1992)
- Open Water (1995)
- You Have the Wrong Man: Stories (1996)
- Lux (October 2004)
- My Sister Life: The Story of My Sister's Disappearance (1998)
- Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod (2003)
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- Official website for Maria Flook
- Identity Theory interview with Maria Flook
- Chapter excerpt of My Sister Life
- Chapter excerpt of Invisible Eden
- BookReporter.com review of Lux
- Edge Provincetown review of Lux
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About the Author:
Maria Flook is a poet and novelist. Her first novel, Family Night, received a PEN/Hemingway Foundation Special Citation. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review and The New Criterion.
She lives in Truro, Massachusetts, a small town on the eastern end of Cape Cod. She currently teaches at Emerson College in Boston.