Sunday, January 12, 2020

Tragedy belonged to other people

I didn't expect to enjoy Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips, as much as I did. It's about girls gone missing, after all. Grim subject matter.

Rather than follow the investigation, the novel shows how the disappearance of the young sisters ripples through the community. The peninsula of Kamchatka is so closed off from the world that it's difficult to believe the girls could've been removed from it, whether by road, sea, or plane.

Laura Miller in the New Yorker notes that:
Dead-girl mysteries are often set in such sleepy, half-forgotten corners of the world: small towns, rural backwaters, suburbs that pride themselves on their tranquillity and safety. Dead girls don't just force detectives to reckon with their own capacity for evil and virtue; they also cause them to turn over the rocks in insular communities and expose wriggling secrets to the light.
The disappearance affects people in indirect ways. Keep your daughter close. Keep your girlfriend close. Suspect everyone; discover nothing.
Tragedy belonged to other people.
Each chapter takes a different female character's perspective, one as each month passes after the incident. With increasing temporal distance, the women are unravelling, but they are bound to their lives. They ache to go far away and go nowhere. They ache for love and sex, and for men to be responsible, to be aware of them, to treat them fairly. The men are traditional and entitled, even when they are incompetent; they are oppressive, even when they are absent.

It's also a xenophobic society, racist, with an indigenous population whose social realities and concerns are largely ignored. A native girl who disappeared years earlier was written off by authorities (and much of the community) as a runaway; nobody cared enough to look for her.

Some people pine for the Soviet era.

These are the stories of women who are smart and accomplished, with so much potential, all of them made to disappear within their own lives.
She, too, believed in the migrants' power — not the power to steal children, but the power to take a woman, to transform her, to turn her life that was growing smaller all the time into an existence that was dark and mighty.

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