Author: Mary Pauline Lowry
Published: Self-published at Author House in September 2011, 326 pages
First Lines: “Everything in Rhonda’s house was beige. Beige rooms, beige couch, beige table and chairs. Even the painters whose landscapes hung on the walls had been stingy with their palettes.”
Genre: Literary fiction; coming-of-age
Susie’s rating: 4.35/5 naked angels in the desert
Rob’s rating: 4/5 highwaywomen named after vegetables
Amy’s rating: 4/5 earthen cups of thick hot chocolate dashed against the cobbles to make your wishes come true
The Earthquake Machine tells the story of Rhonda, a 14-year-old girl who comes from a home that would be called “troubled” if you wanted to be kind. After an unexpected tragedy at home, Rhonda finds herself with a golden opportunity to escape: she swims across the U.S. border into Mexico, in search of her family’s former gardener, Jesús, who had been the only stable person in her life at home before he was deported. She encounters lots of colorful characters along the way, all the while trying to conquer her past and her own identity. This book is a coming-of-age tale that is raw with adult themes; Lowry doesn’t shy away from real issues that teenagers face, from family crises to exploring sexuality.
All three booksluts met online (for the first time!) to discuss The Earthquake Machine. A copy was provided to us by the author for review.
Rob: How did we all like it?
Amy: Liked it quite a bit. Don’t know if I LOVED it, but liked it very well.
Susie: Same. It wasn’t perfect but I liked it a lot.
Rob: That would sum it up for me too. The one thing I kept thinking the whole time I was reading it was that this is one book certain parents would raise hell to ban… and teenage girls would want to get their grubby paws on it.
Susie: Oh yes. Teenagers having a libido (gasp) scandalous.
Rob: Parents would rather not think about that of their immaculate children.
Amy: I wish more books like this had been around when I was a kid. I needed things spelled out. They used so many euphemisms. It was all so damn confusing. This was clearer. Still euphemistic, but clearer.
Amy: I think I’d rather have them reading this than some of the other crap out there for the YA set. At least it’s well-written and raises issues you could discuss together.
Rob: I thought she wrote well, I didn’t pick out many writerly mistakes. A little repetition, maybe; but all in all, it was fairly impressive.
Rob: Yeah, it would have been nice to have this sort of book around when I was a teen.
Rob: I liked most of the characters, she drew them really well. I especially liked the ditzy old lady.
Susie: I thought her characters were great. I loved Las Verduras. And I really liked how even the minor characters were fully realized–they weren’t just throwaways.
Amy: I liked the old lady, but there were some really gross-out moments with her. When she was eating, and sharing the “Earthquake Machine” – um – I’m a little prudish, but watching someone else use my vibrator, no thanks. Oh, and when she had to dress her, and the description of her body. But I thought that worked, only because it tied into Rhonda/Angel’s body and female issues.
Susie: You know, this book kind of reminded me of All the Pretty Horses. If it had happened to a female.
Rob: You’re right, it did have that feel… a softer McCarthy.
Amy: What did you both think of the Mansk situation? I don’t really know what to think.
Rob: I was thinking that those parents I mentioned would have REALLY hated that bit, but it was brave. Even romance writers do not explore underage sex. 19 is usually as young as they’ll go.
Susie: I wasn’t surprised [spoiler redacted]. She had conflicting feelings about him–and I think that is natural for a girl that age, to feel both attracted and angry, violated. I went through some of that, myself.
Rob: No, I wasn’t altogether surprised. I found his reaction interesting though.
Rob: Oh, I know what irritated me–the moth thing. She repeated that King-like.
Susie: Yeah, the obsession with the moth could have been toned down just a tad.
Amy: Ugh, yes. Her moth, her moth, her moth. Knocking the dust off her moth. ENOUGH WITH THE DAMN MOTH.
Susie: I really was interested in how she dealt with gender in the book. Part of what I liked about Las Verduras was that they weren’t part of the traditional gender mold, and neither was Rhonda–they weren’t stereotypical women.
Amy: Gender, power, and strength were interesting themes, and handled well, I thought. And all themes I enjoy reading about, when done well, so I was pleased with that.
Rob: She pretty much hit all the marks. Very ballsy, and very sympathetic too–to all the characters, except the dad, who didn’t deserve any sympathy.
Amy: Oh, the dad was just repulsive. And Lisha, his new wife. Both disgusting.
Susie: I wanted to crotch-punch the dad, ugh.
Rob: The mom pissed me off too, though. My sympathy for her was tinged with contempt for being so damn weak.
Amy: I was torn on the mom – I think it was just the pills, but why did she take the pills? I wish that had been a little more fleshed-out.
Rob: Yeah, I didn’t get it. It sort of hung there with nowhere to go; but I think Lowry had too much control over the book and her characters to leave that hanging that way inadvertently. It was likely on purpose, but it was frustrating.
Amy: I decided it was because Rhonda’s life before Angel was black and white, and ethereal, and didn’t come clear until she took charge of who she was – so Lowry purposely didn’t make the details as clear in the earlier sections as clear as the later ones. Or, she just wasn’t sure what to do with it. But I’m going with the first explanation, because I like writers who have a plan.
Rob: Yes… that’s excellent… that sums up better what I meant.
Susie: I understood the mom’s dynamic very well, actually. I could probably tell you her whole backstory, heh. But I have, uh, more experience with mental illness than the average person, which really isn’t a good thing.
Amy: I think that’s a sign of a successful book – open for a lot of interpretation, depending on the reader and what he or she brings to it. It’s a good book. I hope it finds readership.
Rob: It’s a very layered novel, and a job well-done.
With thumbs up from not one, not two, but three insatiable booksluts, you can hardly go wrong reading this book–that is, if you’re not squeamish about adult themes and underage sex. (This book would probably be triggery as hell for some people, word of warning.) It’s a bold novel that we think would easily have been picked up by a publisher, but we’re glad it didn’t, because they probably would have made her edit out many of the parts that make it excellent. The Earthquake Machine is the book that you and your friends would have passed furtively hand-to-hand in high school, hidden at the bottom of backpacks and read in secret after your parents were asleep. It’s a book we all highly recommend.