Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
by Mike Maranhas
Pink Granite Productions
Paperback: 252 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0977780990
On the surface, Re-enev reads like a fairly ordinary thriller/action book. Luke Ferless, its protagonist, struggles to recover his ‘perfect’ marriage after the the grief of losing his brother, an almost infidelity with a colleague, and a suicide attempt by his wife. A trip to a Hawaiian-styled island, the Re’enev of the title, promises to be exactly what Luke and his stunningly beautiful, perfectly proportioned wife, need to recover. But as they explore the island’s jungle, they unwittingly stumble upon a secret they aren’t supposed to know.
That’s the plotline, and for the most part, the novel is fast paced, exciting, and full of exactly the kind of tension it should be full of. It’s an easy novel to read, and once started propels the reader along. Underneath the plot is a reasonably subtle theme signaled by its prologue, about the need to remain vigilant against the sin of “hanging loose” – of losing focus and of letting those things that matter to us slip. There’s also an underlying religiousness which again, to Maranhas’ credit, is subtle and in the background: a little prayer at the end; a little epiphany towards the middle. The writing style itself is also appealing. The extended metaphors are rich, and often innovative: “The symptoms snag my eyes faster than would a male Northern Cardinal perched on freshly fallen snow.” (136). Luke’s observations are detailed and sensitive, at least in the first half:
Hunter would sit on the couch in our den and stare at the brick chimney running up our next door neighbor’s house. He loved the buttery film that coated each red block for roughly an hour each afternoon as China entered a new day. Hunter introduced me to this phenomenon. I now get a nostalgic feeing whenever the season spawns long shadows in early afternoon, pre-mature sunsets and that beautiful but almost eerie yellow which tints all things. (16)
But the racy plot and lovely language notwithstanding, there’s something unsettling about Re’enev, and it isn’t just the often unsavoury aspects as the plot progresses, or the way in which the slick narrator’s world slowly begins to crumble. This is a novel that stays with, and unhinges the reader, partly because of the way its first person narrative draws the reader into an uncomfortable alliance. Luke Ferless is a compelling narrator to begin with. He attempts a kind of honesty, addressing the reader as if we were his analyst, trying to uncover his reasons and motivations as he addresses his actions in the present in terms of his past. Luke’s rich vocabulary and detailed self-analysis, add to his charm, but despite it all, there seems to be an underlying self-doubt and unconscious misogyny that undermines his justification. It’s as if his life, however rich the observations, is one long cartoon. His father and recently deceased brother Hunter, are ‘action men.’ His wife, however deeply he tries to understand her, is continually described as “lucious,” “impeccable boobs,” “sensational legs’, with perfect white teeth. In Luke’s eyes, she’s like a Bratz doll — so beautifully proportioned you have to love her. Beyond her perfect look, the reader does have a few glimpses of her, from her psychological depth during her and Luke’s counselling sessions, to the way in which she, unpredictably, takes out a restraining order on her husband.
As we watch Luke’s downfall, his italicised monologue changes, belying his earlier introspection. Under duress, he rapidly becomes the thing he’s fought against, hunting, brutally killing, and even enjoying the pain he inflicts. The similarities between Luke, and those people he attempts to rescue Meesha from become stronger and stronger as the novel progresses:
This thrust ignites the last spasm of vigor left in the giant. He opens his mouth to howl, but a red river usurps the medium any audible output would have ridden. “I like it!” I blurt, “Choke you murdering f*uck!” He lifts his beefy arms again, but gets them no higher than his shoulders. From there, he attempts to strike at me with open hands, as if to grab my face. No f*ucking way dude!” (175-6)
At the end of it all, like Luke, the reader somehow expects Meesha, Penelope Pitstop style, to fall into his capable protective arms, and it’s only when she doesn’t, that the reader has a sense, and I’m not entirely sure it was intentional, that the real transformation was in Meesha. For all Luke’s talk of vigilance, both at the end, and in the prologue which begins the book, it’s his obsession with control and need to fill his father’s vigilante shoes, that makes him as unpleasant a character as the Deliverance styled Re’enevians he fights off. The veneer (‘re’enev’ backwards) is simply the semblance of civilisation. It is poor almost perfect Meesha that the reader ends up sympathising with. Re’enev is an interesting psychological study of the monster under the surface, and rather than reading it as a salutary tale of how to save a marriage (as some of the press seems to suggest), I read it as a horror story about the anger and ugliness; the stereotyping and empty objectification that the media (US more than anywhere else) feeds us regularly. Read it quickly, and you might miss it: the savage ugliness just beneath the veneer.