The Earthquake Machine tells the story of 14 year-old Rhonda. On the outside, everything looks perfect in Rhonda’s world, but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manipulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda’s life is her family’s Mexican yardman, Jesús. But when the INS deports Jesús back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation.Determined to find her friend Jésus, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends to Big Bend National Park. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Milagros, Mexico. There a peyote- addled bartender convinces her she won’t be safe traveling alone into the country’s interior. So with the bartender’s help, Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jesús. Thus begins a wild adventure that fulfills the longing of readers eager for a brave and brazen female protagonist.
And here's what I thought: Hmmm... where do begin? This was a story that was a little unusual, and sometimes a bit extraordinary .... and once I had finished it, my mind kept coming back to it. I kept turning things over and over again in my head --- the main character, the story, some of the supporting characters, the setting. Either way, it all adds up to a fascinating read.
Let's begin with Rhonda, who at 14, seems wise beyond her years. I will say that I didn't always love her, but I consistently found her to be an arresting, interesting character. She's at once self-sufficient and smart, and at the next turn, makes no effort to plan ahead. She's savvy and street smart ... and then has moments of being quite naive. But she sees the world in a really unusual way -- at times a clarity that I found startling.
Her relationship with her parents is certainly frustrating. Example: "Rhonda had always wished for the space to have secrets of her own. She wasn't allowed a lock on her bedroom or bathroom doors. Her parents wouldn't even argue about it with her. When she brought the subject up, they beigely steered the conversation to calmer topics." (p. 12). I can see where she would just seethe under the surface -- and I wasn't surprised when she ran away -- because I had the sense that there would be something to push her over the edge.
However, it's when she runs away that things sometimes take a somewhat surreal turn. Her encounter with the guide on the camping trip is written beautifully, but then it's hard to say what's really happening (and if it's happening only in her own mind). This unsteadiness with the storyline, and what Rhonda is experiencing, makes the story compelling, rather than uneven (which I found unusual). But it's when Rhonda crosses the river into Mexico that things really become a bit dreamlike in places. Her journey, not only across the miles, but also into a different identity, is something I found absorbing. And it really is all about the journey here, not necessarily her final destination. "She cried for Rhonda, because being a girl shouldn't have to be so treacherous, and she sobbed because she'd buried her old self. She mourned her own passing, the pain of her transformation. And finally, she cried in relief at having really done it. She'd wanted, like her mother, to kill herself. But she'd fought the destructive urge. Instead of blotting herself out, she'd shed herself and become someone entirely new." (p 103). The determination to undergo the transformation, and to keep pushing forward despite any odds, was really something else.
The author's writing style is descriptive, enough so that you can almost imagine where you are, how things taste, how things feel. I think that's a rare thing -- to feel as if you are experiencing the story first-hand, not just through the main character. Is everything completely believable and realistic? I don't think so, but it didn't spoil the story for me. If at times, things felt like they were entwined in a peyote dream, that was okay with me.
And what's the Earthquake Machine? Not telling --- you'll need to read this story for yourself.
I found this to be an oddly affecting story, and I'd like to revisit it again at some point. In the meantime, I'd encourage you, if this sounds like an interesting read, to seek it out. I've included information on the author, as well as a review from the Huffington Post, if you'd like to know more, and here's the link on GoodReads.
First sentences: Everything in Rhonda's house was beige. Beige rooms, beige couch, beige table and chairs. Even the painters whose landscapes hung on the walls had been stingy with their palettes. When Rhonda complained to her mother about the lack of color, insisting that it stifled her, Louise May sighed wistfully, as if she'd also rather have red walls, purple couches, yellow table and chairs, but still she insisted the house was tasteful. The only brightly colored item in the house was a quilt that Louise May had pieced together herself, just for Rhonda, from pink squares of material. Rhonda would lie on her bed and trace the pink quilt's pattern with her fingertips, naming the different shades: hot pink, shell pink, rose pink, baby-girl pink.
More information about the author: Mary Pauline Lowry has worked as a forest firefighter, construction worker, open water lifeguard, and advocate in the movement to end violence against women.
|Author Mary Pauline Lowry|
Mary Pauline Lowry is currently a novelist, screenwriter, and regular contributor to the Huffington Post. When her novel, THE GODS OF FIRE, based on her experiences as a forest firefighter, didn’t sell, Lowry hopped on a plane to Hollywood and convinced Bill Mechanic to option the book for film. (Former CEO of 20th Century Fox, Bill Mechanic has produced films such as TITANIC, BRAVEHEART, FIGHT CLUB, & CORALINE). Lowry wrote the screenplay, and the film is now in pre-production.
Huffington Post early review