(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JUN 4, 2006)
"I pushed the front door open with my foot. Locks are worthless. If someone like me wants to get in they will. If the cops come round they'll break it down. My place is filled with valuable things but not one of them belongs to me."
After meeting Rory Jones at a local billiards parlor in Auckland, New Zealand, Mark Chamberlain decides to follow up on his conversation by calling on Jones the next day. Jones, an arrogant, fly-by-night developer who believes that "Property is our modern religion," is away from home, and Mark quickly breaks into his apartment and removes every item that is not nailed down, making his own ironic "statement" about values. A burglar who loves his job, Mark then decides to "visit" a few more unoccupied apartments in the same building. In one apartment, which is being inventoried following the owner's death, he suddenly finds himself staring at one of his own class pictures, part of a bedroom shrine created by the parents of Caroline May, a young school friend who disappeared as a teenager more than twenty years ago. Many people believe that she died when, shortly after her disappearance, a plane crashed into Mount Erebus on Antarctica, killing 257 people.
Author Chad Taylor creates a mesmerizing story through the eyes of Mark Chamberlain, as Mark remembers Caroline and relives events from the time of her disappearance in 1979, in which he played a part. His reminiscences from this time are vivid and full of the kinds of precise details that a troubled teenager would remember, and include vibrant descriptions of local New Zealand life from the period.
As the novel unfolds, the reader comes to know Caroline, Mark, and their friends through scenes that are presented in lightning-like flashes, often brief and without obvious transitions, after which Mark spontaneously returns to confused thoughts about his unsatisfying life in 2001. The time frame jockeys between these dates, twenty-two years apart, and the reader becomes part of Mark's thinking, recognizing the typical irrationality of his teenage years but also noting that Mark is still in the grip of irrational forces as an adult, compelled to break into homes and connect with people who knew Caroline when he did. Mark recognizes that "I had been looking for Caroline since she left us all," but he does nothing to break the cycle.
Others are also haunted by Caroline. Her parents never recovered from her disappearance. Harry Bishop, the detective who was in charge of the search for Caroline, is still looking for her, "unable to shake the feeling that she was there, just around the next corner, like a word on the tip of his tongue." Quietly tailing Mark, who is just recently out of jail, he sees parallels between himself, with his drinking, and Mark, with his compulsion to rob houses, and sees the problems they both have in relation to Caroline's disappearance. Varina Sumich, Caroline's best friend, was a swimmer in high school, someone Detective Harry Bishop once watched as a voyeur, and, more than twenty years later, she still seeks refuge in solitary long distance swims at night. Now managing a bar, she comments, regarding Caroline, "We're all still in love."
The past and present overlap and merge in this novel, which will remind some readers of the work of Paul Auster, and the intense focus on Paul Chamberlain and his wasted life, which we see from his own point of view, gives immediacy and power to the action. As the story flows seamlessly from present to past and back again, the main character's thoughts become universal, reflecting the concerns and fears of an Everyman as he grows from adolescence to adulthood and tries to figure out who he is. When a photographer has an art exhibition of twenty-two-year-old photographs from the scene of the plane crash in Antarctica, the novel reaches its climax. Mark, Varina, and Harry Bishop all attend, and none of them emerge unchanged.
A magnificent short novel in the noir tradition, Departure Lounge raises questions about reality and how we perceive it, how we grow and mature, and how, if at all, we can learn from experience. Brilliantly visual and psychological, it follows one lost character who wants to find some control and, ultimately, peace.
- Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Pack of Lies (1993)
- Heaven (1994)
- The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself: Stories (1995)
- Shirker (2000)
- Electric (2003)
- Departure Lounge (April 2006)
- The Church of John Coltrane (2009)
(back to top)
- Official website for Chad Taylor
- New Zealand Book Council page on Chad Taylor
- Washington Post review of Departure Lounge
- New Zealand Listener review of Departure Lounge
(back to top)
About the Author:
Chad Taylor was born in 1964. He grew up in Manurewa, South Auckland. He read English and Art History while doing a Fine Arts degree at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts. He graduated with a BFA in 1988.
Some of his short stories and his novel, Heaven, have been converted to film.
He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.