Cover image for A drink called paradise : a novel
A drink called paradise : a novel
Svoboda, Terese.
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Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Counterpoint Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
147 pages ; 20 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Clare, an L.A. ad executive, finds herself stranded on a remote island in the South Pacific. Barclay, an enigmatic local leader, cannot tell her when the next boat is coming, nor will he unravel the disturbing mysteries that pervade the island. Why is her hostess, Ngarima, indifferent to the intruder who attempts to rape Clare? Why does Ngarima's son brave the sea in a homemade boat in a desperate attempt to escape the island? And what has happened to the eerily misshapen boy who inhabits the lagoon? Women mob Harry, Clare's fellow castaway, so he has no patience for her growing fears. It is finally the island women - Breasts for Three, Clam Hold, and The Spreader - who reveal a life force gone awry and the terrifying secrets that force Clare to confront what she herself has shut away. Drawing on the author's own experience of Tahitian, Pukapukan, and Marshall Island cultures, the luminous prose of A Drink Called Paradise is haunted by living ghosts, islanders moving in the shadow of the past that we all must account for.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

When a copywriter is stranded on a small island in the Pacific after helping a soft drink commercial shoot, she uncovers a terrible secret that eventually drives her to the brink of insanity. Svoboda's stunning novel, frighteningly mysterious and complex, deals with many themes: a child's accidental death and the guilt a surviving parent must cope with, the inhumanity with which faraway governments often treat indigenous peoples, and the relationship between sex and reproduction in both personal and social contexts. Fast-paced, intense, deeply moving, it encourages questioning basic assumptions about the personal search for happiness and the tendency to idealize the lives of those whose culture is perceived to be more "primitive" than one's own. Svoboda uses stark imagery and the protagonist's interior dialogue to craft a most compelling and fluent narrative. --Bonnie Johnston

Publisher's Weekly Review

Poet (Mere Mortals) and novelist (Cannibal) Svoboda's seductive, dreamlike postmodern novel is an ecological parable and a vacationer's nightmare. Clare, an advertising copywriter coping with divorce and guilt over her son's accidental death, seeks relief from Los Angeles through a week's escape on a remote tropical Pacific island, but her sojourn stretches into a six-week ordeal. Though she "goes native," eating taro and joining the island women in their dancing and chores, she remains an outsider, a tourist, a foreigner. The island oozes sexuality (native women give each other ribald nicknames) and suppressed violence. Clare, half-asleep in a guest hut, fends off an indigenous would-be rapist who insists his nighttime assault is simply a ritual custom. Native women have scars around their necks, hidden by necklaces of shells. Even Harry, Clare's fellow tourist and casual lover, spins a dark yarn about his hippie days in Afghanistan, when a relief worker who accidentally ran over a boy was hanged by the locals. Finally, when four moon-suited men escort Clare away in an emergency boat and perform medical tests on her for radiation exposure, she discovers that the area is off-limits due to a hushed-up atomic bomb test or a nuclear accident. Svoboda's lush, fractured lyricism captures the indolent rhythms, isolation and deceptive calm of this far-from-paradisaical island, which exudes an aura of menace. Her ever-changing prose is often strikingly beautiful ("Cumuli pile over me, shadowing the ocean with boat shapes, boats that are always arriving.... Fish muscle through the water in sheaves of color"). Postmodernism's heady potential to reinvent language, unclog the doors of perception, and reconceptualize thoughts, feelings, selves and reality is on vibrant display in this demanding, worthy novel. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Ah, sex. That's the subtext of roosters, all roosters. What could be more compelling than the undertones of sex on a desert island, an atoll exactly, with a blood-hot climate and a flame-headed fury of a rooster strutting around the thick uprightness of a coconut palm?     But is this all it is?     Barclay pronounces his lying yes, his polite lying yes, along with its denial of the rest of my life, and it could just as well be the rooster's yes .     What he means is he's ready.     Ready or not, I read it to mean.     That is the least of it.     I have a tan, but I am white enough. In books they write that people here stay indoors for weeks to get my color, that this is the color of love they wait for. I am also blond, although that is soon taken care of, day by day, a quarter-inch at a time. I see how the water moves each wave to leave a rope of the darkened sand, and that's my hair, its true self, not saying sex or foreign or the two, inevitably, together.     A week on an island is a wonder. A week after missing a boat is a reprieve, time to fix it in your head, every stripe in the sunset, everything last, last, last. It's the next week that sticks in your throat when you try to forget how long it is, then you do and you go on to the next week, you can't help but hear that yes Barclay makes, its crow. If weeks can be gone through like days, one as warm and wet as the next, then they're not long, then there's no worry, take a yes .     Missing the boat is not a worry, it is a dumb thing. Ngarima says there is a spear I must see like all the rest that I must see before I leave: the taro pits, the shells ivory smooth, the way you beat bark, but the boat is coming in, is coming close. Don't worry, she says, it is only for a minute, over here, she says. I worry, but she has seen many boats, she knows. Come over here, she says. It's seven foot long, she says. The most beautiful, she says, the one more thing.     The day before the day before the next time the boat should come, it rains in a release like a latch broken, and then it rains the week away, and then the next. Here lashes the tail of a typhoon and the typhoon's brother and what else? I worry. Rain and its typhoon approach or Barclay's can make you worry. Today it's rain-you-can't-lift-your-hand-in. All you're allowed in this kind of rain is one foot in front of the other, and only just before the other foot disappears.     Barclay has disappeared.     Oh, I make a scene when I miss the boat. I know by the silence after I speak, the way waves lap so loudly in between what I say. Ngarima says the boat had a problem, it had to leave quick, and Barclay says his yes . They can say that because of a radio. I'm sure there is a radio, I ask every day about a radio to call some other boat, a boat that might be boating by, even here, and every day Barclay says, Yes.     Today the rain drowns, literally it seems, even the rooster's fervent and urgent riffs that break from that rain-sodden swollen chest. The cuckolding of every other rooster that has ever scratched or jerked in the surrounding circle of coral ends short, recedes to mere complaint, and then to nothing, and leaves me bereft and angry.     I can't find Barclay.     He's not in either of the two rooms inside. I run out to where I last saw his large self angling. The rain closes around me in its sheaf of wet and that's all I make out until I find the porch ledge and then I'm back to where I drip on the porch.     It's an island, can he go far or forever? says Ngarima. He has gone for sex is what I think, sex outside this sandwich we don't make here, and not to any radio if there is one. It isn't a boat he cares about, it's sex elsewhere, and my sex just sitting here, missing and waiting.     I could plunge back into the rain and search the length of the rain for him, but why not wait now and believe his yes? Tourists wait and are waited on. Why not wait a week longer with my anger and no boat? There are no boats in a typhoon anyway, and there is probably no radio. The lack of truth is what makes me angry, all its yes promise.     All Ngarima promises now is food. No, that is not all she promises. Like Barclay, she is a connoisseur of promising, but today she heaves her huge self out onto the porch with a piece of taro the size of a country ham and a machete tucked, as only an islander can tuck a knife, under her arm, then she settles, a dark enough cloud herself, not a yard away from me.     The rain waggles. It could be a ghost, it could be a skirmish of hot and cold, it could be wind from Oklahoma out to lunch or a long shot slapped down right here in the middle of the Pacific. But most likely ghost.     If she could talk over this rain, Ngarima would tell me ghost, the way she would tell me the kind of day this is for cooking or the size of the fish no one caught so there is just this can of fish to eat. She doesn't show me this and that anymore, all that is finished with missing the boat as if missing the boat were why she showed me everything, but she still talks ghost. Ghosts lounge around here like everybody else. If she sneezes, there's a ghost, if she finds a roach in with the food, a ghost stuck it there. After her ghost answer, she would ask if I have children because she likes that question, that's a question I can't answer well enough. The question sounds like one an anthropologist would ask over and over, as if there were another answer. Then she would ask if I like sex, as if it is something we are having for dinner. Or as if Barclay is having me.     Barclay does like his service. Along with his name, which he took from something washed up, a biscuit tin or a sailor, he has that stealthy, passive, tilted pelvis when he speaks down to the seated Ngarima, and a washed-up wave of dark hair that cuts off his face while he talks. That face is a film star's, good eyebrows and chin--you could yes him--but a look on the features says whatever sailor made that slim nose in the smallest part of his person left for good reason, and the colors of his logoed T-shirt scream so ugly I'm frightened for fashion, whatever it took to get it this far.     All tourists think their island's far, but this island's really far. You can't fly in--you have to take a boat. There isn't even a brochure. I'm in ads, and a place without a brochure is some secluded place. I just stumbled onto it, hustling a soft drink I copywrote Paradise, which meant the drink needed an island better than where the fruit came from to shoot its ad in, in fact, the place we found wasn't clean enough either, too many rocks on the beach, a lot of beer webbing and mangrove and guano, so we had to get on another plane, and once I got there, what is one more island, one more week away by boat?     Crazy, the crew said. But I have spent the last six months moving six words into as many orders as six words will go--I know crazy. To be sure, my ticket had to be cleared. Someone looked at my ticket and then someone else looked at it, they both stamped it okay to show how they both looked, and then they looked at each other as if I were getting away with what?     Paradise.     Not that I don't love ad life. Writing something from nothing is important in these days of few blue skies, no water clean enough to spit in, and no place to drive that Malibu four-wheel sheet-metal bomber that ad life said would take you. That I said would.     It's the romance of the thing I know how to write: the bent palm, the burn of a cigarette in the dark, pearls against a tawny neck, water reflections, most of what started here and was whispered, sailor to merchant to whore to chamberlain to some philosopher walking around a big lake in a cold country who made romance what it is so I can remake it, wrap dollars around it so people can burn their lives away answering yes.     Ngarima takes her machete out from her armpit and sections the big, thick taro in her lap into three huge chunks, all white through, all gray-brown rough outside, then she pares it, hacks at it until its gray-brown outsides curl at her knees.     This is what island life is really like: knives and rain. How else will you have growth? It is a mistake to think sex, that romance, and not to see how this kind of growth is part of it. Plants knife the rain at the end of the porch, waggle in the violent wind, shake with a drop in temperature or when a ghost moves the plant's long, slender leaves--everything here is so stiff and ready to cut or come, it's sex and death together. On this island you can see right where those two end: in a circle, curved, according to all the theories, curved and meeting at the edges with ocean.     I'm on this island until the end of time. Not so terrible, you say. Relax, you say. A few extra weeks on an island, what's the big deal? Those days of speed-dialing and demanding, with no time for food, for love, the present never present I am so nervous with fade to static now under this sun, under this lack of sun. No doubt there is a Zen lesson here, a long lesson, but one that lacks the amusing riddle.     Maybe you think I exaggerate. Maybe you think the end of time is quite impersonal, Cretaceous or Pleistocene only with some future suffix, but I know the world and its end are inextricably linked to my personal decay, so that when I finish with the world in whatever hole I've stolen from somebody else, via some ad or other, time will simply perish because I am time. Bury me now and carbon dating will tell.     The rain keeps falling. Ngarima and I stare into the gray, we listen to how the tin roof bangs back with the hard parts of the rain so we can't possibly talk. We sleep instead, sleep without going to all the trouble of closing our eyes. Copyright © 1999 Terese Svoboda. All rights reserved.