The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
We are close, so close to Margaret's apartment, and I feel myself sinking deeper into the passenger seat, relieved that I have succeeded in my small mission of getting Margaret out of her home, if only for a few hours. The day is a success. Sure, I had to let her drive, something I usually avoid. Margaret is always too nervous, too chatty, looking around at the pedestrians, forgetting to put on her signal, stomping on the brakes too late. But today I actually managed to snap her out of her sadness. I have done everything a good friend should.
I was well pleased with this choice of book to 'change it up' a bit. Siobhan Fallon's debut novel was very, very thought provoking. She's also written a short story collection that I read a few years ago when it was one of the Mayor's Book Club selections for the Austin Public Library - You Know When The Men Are Gone. This author is the wife of a career military man, and she can write with knowledge and authority for what it's like to be the family of these individuals. She moved to Jordan in 2011 and that is where this novel is set. I think it's hard for us to understand what it might be like to be living in a culture so very different from what we are used to, a country with different 'rules' and norms and then also have to cope with a spouse that is deployed or sent to yet another country for extended periods of time. The loneliness, the desire to fit in, the lack of friends and just your children or maybe just yourself to have as company for much of the time.
In this story of two women, Cassie and Margaret, the reader sees quite the different ends of the spectrum in abilities to adapt or adjust to a culture with more rigid rules for many things, especially gender issues. Cassie and her husband, Dan, have lived in Amman, Jordan for two years and they are the 'sponsors' or 'mentors' of Margaret and her spouse, Crick. Margaret has a baby. Cassie wishes she had a child. Cassie follows the 'rules' set out by the American Embassy for 'life in Jordan'. She has constructed a little box of a life in order to manage her time there. Margaret has a harder time doing this. She sees this move as an opportunity to learn about new things, new people, and she reaches out with abandon to see and do everything, while rarely regarding the cautions and warnings about societal norms. The title of the book is apt - there is indeed a 'confusion of languages'.
Told by both women, Cassie, mostly over the course of single day, and also through Margaret's journal, which details her life after her arrival in Jordan, the tension increases more and more. The women are in a car accident and Margaret goes to the police station to settle things - then doesn't return. Time passes and Cassie finds the journal and starts reading it. Many things were not as they seemed. And that's all I'll say, other than to promise that when Siobhan Fallon's next book is published, I'll be racing to read it. There is beauty here and sorrow and wisdom. Recommended.
Both Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw dutifully followed their soldier husbands to the U.S. embassy in Jordan, but that’s about all the women have in common. After two years, Cassie’s become an expert on the rules, but newly arrived Margaret sees only her chance to explore. So when a fender-bender sends Margaret to the local police station, Cassie reluctantly agrees to watch Margaret’s toddler son. But as the hours pass, Cassie’s boredom and frustration turn to fear: Why isn’t Margaret answering her phone, and why is it taking so long to sort out a routine accident? Snooping around Margaret’s apartment, Cassie begins to question not only her friend’s whereabouts but also her own role in Margaret’s disappearance.