Last Night: Finished Sex is Forbidden. Here is a short passage on page 251:
The liquid swirled white and brown. Ralph was solemn, moving the heavy motor round and round while I kept the bowl still. I could see the concentration in his jaw. There was a veil of cocoa on his young man’s stubble. Honey on a razor’s edge. The heavy mix was lifting and falling in soft slaps. Under cover of the noise, he asked: ‘Can I kiss you again, Bess?’
Ok, Parks, you win. To explain how well placed, how well poised this seemingly small, unimportant little passage is would take half a book. With Beth saying to herself “young man’s stubble” we see without yet fully seeing how much she has grown, is growing.
Parks brings off the final fifty pages of the book with the aplomb of a magician, master of his repertoire of tricks. The book ends with all elements balanced and counterbalanced, maddeningly delightful in a romantic sit-com sort of way. We smile, we are charmed, all our resistance has fallen, what a wonderful story of Beth growing beyond her recent spate of bad luck and tragic suffering. How ready she is to embrace life more fully, celebrating by changing her name from Beth to Lisa. Her temptation for a fling, the diarist Geoff H. is entranced by the ashram and plans to stay on as the sort of Server Beth has been for the past nine months. They flirt with each other but they don’t give in. Beth goes to help her mother after news reaches her that her dad has finally left his unhappy wife after thirty-one years of marital less-than-bliss. Was the Dasgupta Institute helpful to Beth in helping her find her way? How can she know, how can we know, it was something she tried and failed at and succeeded at and she left when life took her forward.
Parks has a great knack for this kind of novel or story-spinning. The passage I quoted above shows this--the brilliant detail of the cocoa on young Ralph’s stubble, the inventiveness of the whole mini-scene in the larger scheme of the book. Entertainment in our contemporary modes. The Spectator blurb on the back cover says: “eminently readable” and “teases you” to the end. Yes, it is all true, the book is like that and as I said sort of irritatingly so. A set of captivating tricks and the satisfaction of finding out everything you hungered to find out about, once all of the keys are struck, the effect evaporates. Quickly. Too quickly. To whom am I anxious to say, You’ve got to read this book? Can’t think of anyone.
I worry today that I'm being too harsh here. Maybe, maybe not.