Wednesday, July 28, 2010

LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave

I've recently read T.C. Boyle's Tortilla Curtain, which dealt with the heartbreaking, backbreaking lives of illegal immigrants in the U.S. The tension and turmoil leap off the page in that book, but I found Little Bee a disappointment. Yes, the true grit of the novel unfolds little by little, but the plot failed to engage me for some reason. The accolades on the back indicate that it's supposed to be witty, but I missed the wit somehow and found it to be one of the most depressing books ever. Sixteen-year-old Little Bee, along with several other women, is released without immigration papers from a detention center in London. She is a refugee from Nigeria, where all of her family members were murdered for the oil deposits in their village. She makes her way to the home of Andrew O'Rourke and his wife Sarah, whom she met on a beach in Nigeria. (The beach encounter is the crux of the story and not fully revealed until at least midway through the book.) She appears at Sarah's door on the day of Andrew's funeral, after he has committed suicide, ostensibly from anguish after Little Bee phoned that she was on her way to his house. What bothered me here were how many asinine decisions the characters made, which had extremely tragic consequences. Why would Sarah's married lover, Laurence, show up on her doorstep the day of Sarah's husband's funeral? Why would she let him stay? Why would he ask Little Bee, who is in danger of being deported, to make the call to the police when Sarah's son Charlie goes missing? (OK, maybe he had an ulterior motive here.) Why would you allow your 4-year-old to wear a Batman outfit 24/7 for months, complete with full face mask, until you finally had to buy a second costume so that the other could be laundered? This is all head-scratchingly absurd. I will say this for Charlie in the Batman outfit. There's obviously a metaphor woven throughout the story about his being a superhero, but it didn't occur to me until the end that it also hides the (white) color of his skin.

No comments: