Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Scarlet Macaw: Review

The Scarlet Macaw by S. P. Hozy is less a mystery than a careful examination of stories and how they are told--an examination of who we are and how we got that way and a parable of love. loyalty, and loss.

Maris Cousins is an artist living in Singapore.  She left her home in Canada in search of inspiration and she found it when she met Peter Stone of the Stone Art Gallery in Singapore.  Peter recognized the talent and passion in Maris's work and gently encouraged her to become the artist she could be.  Maris is devastated when Peter is murdered with poison in his favorite drink.  Her art has been dedicated to color--and the use of color is how she tells her stories through painting. When Peter dies, all of the color drains out of her life.  The colors no longer speak to her and she heads back to Toronto.

She takes with her a trunk full of items willed to her by Peter.  The trunk's contents are primarily first editions by author E. Sutcliffe Moresby and a set of paintings signed "A.S."  There is also a bundle of letters.  Maris works her way through the books and a few of the letters and wonders why on earth Peter bequeathed her a set of stories about love and betrayal, loyalty and loss set in early twentieth century Singapore.  After a brief respite in Toronto, Maris returns to Singapore where she will find herself involved in her own story of love and betrayal.  There is the solution to Peter's murder to be found and a smuggling operation that hits a little too close to home.  But along the way Maris will find her way back to the colors through which she can tell her own stories.

Hozy weaves her tale of Maris and modern-day Singapore with short stories by the fictional author Moresby as well as flashbacks to early twentieth-century Singapore and a pair of young lovers from England who try to make a life in that foreign place.  She uses all of these to explore her themes--the power of story, the power of love, the power of betrayal.  She tells the same tale from various viewpoints and in stories from two different centuries. 

I thoroughly enjoyed jumping between time periods and the multiple narrators were expertly handled.  Hozy's prose is fluid and beautiful and I hated to put the book down.  The weak point for me is the mystery-element.  I didn't really feel like there was much doubt who killed Peter and, as soon as a certain topic was brought up, why.  Unfortunately, that isn't actually resolved--we're left with a clear pointer, but it's not stated straight-out.  It also was little disappointing that the flashbacks had so little to do with the modern mystery--since the book was billed as a mystery at the local library, I would have liked the historical story to be more closely tied to the modern events.  But those are minor quibbles.  This is an excellent read and worth every point on all four stars.

He had seen things he didn't like to talk about, but they were in his stories. She was sure he hadn't made them up. She believed they were basically true, they were so believable. Francis said it was because Sutty was such a good writer. Of course she thought they were true, he told her. You were supposed to believe them. Look at Shakespeare.  He wrote tragedy because people wanted a good cry, and he wrote comedy because people also wanted to laugh. It's all about bums in seats and cash in the till. People would pay for it if they didn't believe it. (p. 48)

...whereas contentment seems to be a more consistent state, happiness, to me, seems more elusive, more hit and miss. I think you can have happy moments, but to sustain a state of happiness is probably impossible. (p. 137)

Maris still blamed her father fro bringing it all down, but now she realized that blaming him was the path of least resistance. Life was much more complicated than that. (p. 146)

I've come to understand what I call the "principle of distraction." Meaning that most people, including your father, don't live by a set of beliefs. They exist. They put in time. They play roles: husband, wife, employee, neighbor, grandmother. They move through a series of roles in life and they define themselves by those roles. ~Spirit (p. 149)

True art, Spirit believed, was about ideas. And ideas came from watching, listening, learning, and experimenting. (p. 160)

M: ...I don't think anyone really wants to be untethered. I think of it as an astronaut on a space walk coming unhooked from the mother ship and being sucked into the void or a black hole. Everybody needs to be connected to something.
S: Or someone.
~Maris; Spirit (p. 170)

She didn't believe there was such a thing as closure, but Maris did think that knowing was better than not knowing, even if the truth was horrible.  (p. 228)

My God. I didn't realize that you were operating on such low battery all this time. I thought you were luminous before, but now you're positively incandescent. ~Axel (p. 308)

No comments: