4th Oct 2012
Monsoon Season by Katie O’Rourke
Having completed college, Riley picks up her things and sets up home in Tucson, Arizona on a childhood whim - without so much as a glance back to her parental home in Massachusetts.
She happens upon the perfect roommate, Donna, and gets herself a job as a waitress. Before long she meets her boyfriend, Ben, adding the finishing touches to what seems to be a sound new life.
But when her relationship with Ben turns more than sour, Riley has to return to the only place that now feels like home – and to her parents.
I was immediately attracted to the novel, particularly the idea of watching a woman move back in with her parents after a time of living independently.
We are, after all, the boomerang generation and as one who has ‘boomeranged’ I’m interested in other experiences of this rather…challenging…transition.
When she returns to Massachusetts, Riley and her family all struggle with the constraints that past precedents place on their relationships.
Whilst distance and time might have illuminated the ruptures between them, Riley and her parents remain unable to redress the black holes of communication that exist.
This stalemate is set into flux when an accident forces the family dynamics to shift. Over the long summer we begin witness glacial shifts, as lines drawn long ago begin to alter ever so slightly.
Family relations, however, are not the main event but rather a backdrop to Riley and Ben’s relationship. Ben is wonderfully portrayed – he is many-hued, and the temptation he elicits in Riley is palpable to the reader as well.
Handsome, thoughtful, loving and intensely vulnerable, Ben has himself grown up in household where his mother suffered the violent anger of his father.
Whilst Riley is cool, sombre and reserved like the New England summer, Ben is blazing fury followed by sobbing tears – like Tucson’s dry forest fires and pouring monsoon rains.
The author attempts to make the end of the relationship all the more poignant by having Riley discover, when she leaves Tucson, that she is pregnant by Ben.
The abortion that follows is the novel’s weakest aspect, overcrowding a narrative that was already full of obstacles for our protagonist. This section sees her wandering about, mind-numbed in stained t-shirts, unable to speak.
I felt unable to engage with her here – perhaps O’Rourke’s intention, to illustrate a lost period in Riley´s life - but I would have liked to explore Riley’s thoughts more, rather than watch her lolling opaquely on hammocks and sofas.
O’Rourke’s narrative voice is inventive: she writes mainly from Riley’s perspective, but occasionally accents this with a few passages written in the voice of another character.
This is highly successful in the case of Ben where seeing his point of view helps carve out a character that is more than just terror and violence.
The author also darts between time and place. When we need context, she pops back to an earlier event that provides the reader with the context we need. This could easily have been confusing or frustrating – but these sections are all short and quick, pushing the story onwards apace.
Monsoon Season is an easy, speedy and intriguing read – but the difficulty of fully engaging emotionally with Riley limits its impact.
Monsoon Season was published by Canvas on 19th July 2012 and is available for Kindle, priced at £1.99.
Recommended for: Fans of a darker flavour of chick lit – check this one out if you like the kind of story that follows a character through a transformative period.
Other recommended reading: Dragonslippers: This is What an Abusive Relationship Looks Like by Rosalind B. Penfold is a difficult but illuminating read that explores themes of domestic violence more deeply than O´Rourke has here.