Paul Theroux has been one of my favorite travel writers for a long, long time. But my favorite book that he has written is hands down his novel The Mosquito Coast. One of the reasons for that is that it still sort of reads like a travel book, but it’s got a story as good as any I know. And it has one of the best character studies I have ever read, in Allie Fox.
Allie is an inventor. He is very smart, intolerant of stupidity, and is that terrible combination of an arrogant jerk who can back up all of his boasting. The story is narrated by his oldest son, Charlie. In the beginning Charlie speaks of his father from the adoring position of any young boy who has ever looked up to his father. But at the same time he is often embarrassed by him. One of the early scenes in the book has Charlie as a spectator while his father belittles customer service workers with harangues about Chinese made goods, the downfall of the American consumer, and on and on and on.
So what’s a guy to do when he’s sick of American excess and can’t shut up about how rotten it’s all getting? Well, most people would just continue to complain while enjoying the comforts of easy livin’. Not Allie. He packs everyone up in a hurry and sets out for a jungle in Honduras. His wife seems supportive and his kids do what kids do: they go along with their parents.
If at the beginning of the book Allie seems merely brash and annoying and with an eternal chip on his shoulder, it doesn’t take long before we start to realize that he’s got some serious craziness going on in his brilliant mind. Once they’re in the jungle he buys a town and wins over the majority of the Zambu tribesmen that live there. But soon, when his children complain about their hard new lives, he is telling his family that America has been destroyed and there’s nothing to go back to.
Things go from to bad to worse to worst, in one of the most brilliantly plotted and paced books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Allie was a character I simultaneously loved and hated, similar to the Judge in Blood Meridian.
If you like adventure stories, travelogues, or you’re a fan of Palahniuk-style critiques of the banality and laziness of modern day America, please follow the advice of this incadescent The Mosquito Coast book review and give it a try.
Rated: 100 malaria pills