The Woman Who Lost Her Soul. Bob Shacochis.

Shacochis, Bob. The Woman Who Lost Her Soul. Atlantic Monthly, New York, 2013. Hachette Digital retrieved for Kindle.

I pulled this off the Pulitzer Prize fiction shortlist. It contains some really spectacular figurative writing, has a roller coaster plot, and explores or at least hints at more than half a dozen major issues. But reading this otherwise very compelling multi-genre novel is like dealing with some giant uncontrolled monster, or maybe more like being shut in with four or five of them, slamming around in a closed space.

I guess the overriding genre is spy/political intrigue. We are in and out of full-on mystery thriller traffic: offhand, in-the-arcane-know narration out of the side of the mouth, jammed with firearm and military acronym, packing plenty of cash, sleaze, cocktails, and dirty sex. Never forget the indescribably callipygous enigmatic blonde. Plus high-stakes golf, murder, and betrayal. And ultra-top-secret military and government self-serving wrongdoing all the way up to the top like Three Days of the Condor. It’s the thriller smorgasbord piled to the ceiling.

But wait: we also get Yugoslavian World War II Jewish escape from Nazi atrocity, moral and psychological hero-narrator inner dilemma (two of them), mad psychopathic incest- religion- revenge- and power-obsessed daddy figure. And then, from an author who renders sex with unaffected credibility, a shockingly embarrassing Bachelorette romance escape that never allows the slightest hint of irony. Pass the Gravol, I’ve had far too much and that last course sent me gagging.

The barest essentials of the plot: Do-gooder Tom reluctantly returns to Haiti to investigate death of gorgeous photographer (she has three or four names). The US occupation has produced an intoxicating mix of American military sophistication and simple-mindedness with Haitian poverty, graft, and voodoo religion. Tom fails to figure out what happened (and strikes out in the sack with the photographer…). Sudden switch of scene to World War II Croatia. Young Jewish boy escapes with his life after seeing his father decapitated by activists (head thumping on the floor). Time-warp forward to the boy’s adult life as mysterious iron-hand-in-velvet-glove CIA daddy of (the dead girl), a teenager in Istanbul, both eventually caught in a terrifying storm in her sailboat. Jump to the present: PLOT ALERT she didn’t really die (!). Slick segue to flouncing off on escape from daddy with buff midwest cowboy sergeant-promoted-to-CIA-captain Ev, a weeklong Coors-commercial of cocktails and copulation on the beach, after which she does die, mangled by a terrorist’s bomb END PLOT ALERT.

Author Shachocis at times seems like a person with frontal lobe damage. Like all six of the beer cans are present and full of frosty beverage but the little plastic thing that holds them together is missing. He can be figuratively masterful:

She possessed the teenage knack of extemporaneous editing, trimming or tweaking a story into a version more suitable for the ears of parents, omitting inconvenient details, understating relationships, transforming the primary colors of questionable behavior into blameless pastels.

But elsewhere:

In Zagreb she had promised, You and I will talk about this, and so they did, for many years, submerged together into a vision that was timeless, where history reigned and was immovable, one monolithic and unchanging thing with its roots sunk into the fault lines of the earth and summit far above the clouds.

Is it just me, or is the first one seamlessly charming and the second one something off of a purple Hallmark sympathy card?

Huge, exciting, rich, various, and intriguing but for me so fragmented as to be near-incoherent. And dreadfully weirdly saccharine where its romantic center should be. Hard to rate. I think it has to be a range: 3.0-8.2 for both content and style.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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