Somebody Else’s Troubles, J.A. English. Union Lake, MI: Zimbell House Publishing, 2020.
Summary: Several troubled individuals find their way to Mabuhay, a tiny Caribbean Island, and find in the troubles of others the possibility of the redemption of their own.
Five individual stories intersect on the tiny Caribbean island of Mabuhay. They come from Chicago, New York, and Athens, Ohio.
Travers Landeman inherited a family business, in a gradual declined propped up by government subsidies and transformed by the extra personnel these subsidies require. He is married to a shrew, Corinne, who shrewdly recognized that he’d be able to fund the lifestyle she coveted. Things come to a head when a nephew, sexually abused by a priest, commits suicide after reaching out in vain for help from Travers. A night with a prostitute leads to extortion, the decision to take flight to Mabuhay, and then to faking his own death. Albert Sidney McNab is a plodding but relentless insurance/private investigator who is convinced that Landeman never really died and is determined to find him. Apart from his sleuthing, he lives a lonely life.
The others in this tale are: Joe Rogers, whose best friend is a Vodka bottle. His former wife sets him up in a bookstore, complete with live-in help, Zero. The Yellow Harp gets off to a rocky start as a women’s group remembering the women’s history of the place (a former brothel) ends up starting a small fire, the damages from which turn out to be uninsured. A chance to fill in for an archaeologist on a dig in Mabuhay offers respite from it all. An accidental fall results in a near fatal ankle break, and the discovery of a singular ritual mask. Father Chester O’Reilly started out as a parish priest in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago where he grew up under a power-grasping monsignor. The parish is declining due to white flight, and Father Chester is too honest about issues of race and justice to be farmed out to the suburbs. A bequest providing for an Austin priest to provide spiritual care to the natives of Mabuhay offers a way out, and as he embraces the ways of the island, they embrace him. Marguerite departs from her love, Schugay, to pursue nursing studies in Chicago, being connected to hosts in the Austin neighborhood by Father Chester. She’s mugged, and then after pursuing charges, raped by her mugger. Chicago is nothing but a series of losses for Marguerite, including the loss of Schugay. Heartbroken, Marguerite returns to Mabuhay.
The narrative moves back and forth between the individuals, tracing their paths to Mabuhay. Along the way, they become voices for the corruption and sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church, the dynamics of white flight to the suburbs in Chicago, the war on drugs that made the careers of politicians and made neighborhoods like Austin the targets of drug busts, and the weasly practices of insurance companies and government funding programs. The story of Travers’ nephew is one of homosexual attraction when it couldn’t be spoken of, the intensity of his sexual experiences alternating with struggles with shame, compounded by a predatory priest. The confluence of these characters on Mabuhay opens up new choices for them in a new culture, for how they will live, and whether they will engage the troubles of “somebody else.”
It is interesting that the discussion guide for this novel raises the question of an authorial voice that editorializes at various places. I personally felt that the plot and characters were interesting enough and got at the issues explored in the editorial passages of the novel. I suspect the author, who continues to reside at least part of the time in the Austin neighborhood that is one of the settings of this novel, has strongly formed and important opinions for which this novel serves as a vehicle. I personally felt that he could have trusted the story to say these things for him. It did for me.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.