Re-reading Old Favorites: MOSQUITO COAST

Re-reading . . . how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love the guaranteed happiness (how often does one get that?); I love meeting old friends and familiar enemies; and oh, how I love the anticipation of coloring in the faintly remembered.

Truly-addicted readers have books to which they repeatedly return; we become so entranced by an author’s words we even hope (in bouts of the truest example of suspension of disbelief) that perhaps this time, if we read very slowly, or very carefully, or with one eye squinted half shut, events may change. (Don’t die, Johnny Nolan!)

First published in 1982, MOSQUITO COAST is on the highest rung of books to which I return (even buying a second copy when the first hid and I couldn’t find it quickly enough to satisfy my urge.) Upon finishing it for the second, third, fourth time, I’ll begin anticipating the day I’ve forgotten enough plot details to sink into it once again. MOSQUITO COAST created by Paul Theroux satisfies every bit of my readerly soul with young Charlie, a watchful narrator who captures one’s heart with his push-pull toward his larger-than-life father, Allie, a villain who terrifies by his good intentions gone wild. Charlie’s family is in thrall to this growing madman, including Charlie’s mother, who we watch, waiting, praying she will speak the truth. Minor characters pop off the page and into our imagination like toothsome treats both wholesome and delicious, satisfying both our mouths and cellular matter.

You’ll know Allie Fox immediately. He could be the current day environmentalist gone many steps cracked, the one who upbraids and lectures employers, neighbors (he has no friends) his wife, children, anyone crossing him on his mission to redeem a greedy world. Using both enforced simplicity and brilliant inventions, Allie attempts to convince an unwilling world of his ability to see what no other man can, while Charlie, his fourteen-year-old son, a watcher, and narrator of the book, brings the reader with him as he moves down the uncomfortable road of a son moving from admiration to horror.

Theroux manages to provide a magnificent balance of Scheherazade-worthy story-telling and deceptively work-man-like prose upon which you could balance a Pulitzer. Allie Fox drags his family from Massachusetts to the jungles of Central America, intent on rescuing the steaming encampment in which they settle into a new world on the shoulders of a giant ice-making machine in the midst of the tropical jungle.

As Allie moves deeper into a mission turned folly, his family, most especially his son, Charlie, wrestle with their loyalty to the bully who rules their shrinking world. The demons they must fight up to the dramatic end—how does one say no to a parent, a husband who’s towered over them forever? —make THE MOSQUITO COAST the most thrilling and unusual of coming-of-age stories.

I count the days until I’ve forgotten it, and can read it once more.

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