By Doug Hare EBS Staff
Earlier this month, Maile Meloy published a novel for adults for the first time in over a decade. “Do Not Become Alarmed” has quickly garnered attention in the literary world as being a must-read summer thriller.
Born and raised in Helena, Montana, Meloy is a Harvard graduate who earned her Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Irvine, and now calls Los Angeles home. Author of the novels “Liars and Saints” and “A Family Daughter,” and two collections of stories “Half in Love” and “Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It,” Meloy also penned a trilogy for young readers that weaves together Cold War spy fiction with magic and mystery.
“Do Not Become Alarmed” follows two cousins, Liv and Nora, as they venture with their husbands and two children each from their comfortable LA homes down the Pacific coast of Latin America on a cruise ship bound for the Panama Canal and back. From the very first pages, we are treated to a subtle, sophisticated examination of first-world privilege, parenthood and well-intentioned, but naive Americans abroad.
The cruise ship serves as a perfect vehicle for an examination of American extravagance and the remnants of colonialism. Without giving too much of the plot away, the novel picks up speed when the four children go missing somewhere near Costa Rica and wind up in the hands of drug dealers. High-stakes decisions, adultery and death are quick to follow.
The book reminded me of Henry Miller’s “Air Conditioned Nightmare” because of its sardonic look at American culture. Alex Garland’s “The Beach” also comes to mind in the way it exposes how the seductiveness of exotic, coastal locales often holds more danger than originally meets the eye.
“Do Not Become Alarmed” is smarter than your average thriller. Meloy does not shy away from dealing with issues of race and class even while constructing a fast-paced thriller. Her ability to empathize with nearly 20 characters, both young and old, adds another layer of complexity.
With compact prose, an unpredictable but well-organized plot, and a unique talent for dissecting family dynamics, Meloy has crafted a story about a vacation gone awry that is suspenseful and spellbinding until the last page.
Doug Hare is the Distribution Director for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.