Review: The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, in the case of Rhonda her single step leads here on a transcendental journey into Mexico.

Mary Pauline Lowry’s debut novel, The Earthquake Machine, tells the story of 14 year old Rhonda whose life has been turned upside down. Rhonda’s mother is the typical ‘desperate housewife’, in a loveless marriage more about convenience and comfort than love. Rhonda’s father (a pharmacist) supplies her unstable mother with prescription drugs to keep her in line while he is out having an affair.

They live in a ticky tacky house on the hillside where all the houses look just the same….but thanks to the family gardener Jesus, color and life continues to reside in the taupe colored, mundane suburban nightmare that Rhonda calls home.

Jesus is the only stable person in Rhonda’s life, her constant gardener if you will :).  But all her security gets demolished when the INS deports Jesus back to his home state of Oaxaca leaving Rhonda in an increasingly difficult family situation.

Things come to a head when Rhonda’s mother commits suicide. She just needs to get away…..far away from her life and her father. So she goes on a mission to find Jesus….in Mexico.

She swims across the Rio Grande river into Mexico and assumes the identity of a a little Mexican boy named Angel. Her great adventure takes her from the banks of the Rio Grande all the way to Mexico City looking for Jesus.

Along the way she meets a host of unique characters who help her find herself….the peyote addicted bartender who cuts her hair and makes ‘Angel’ real….an eccentric American couple who are each others obsession….a group of boy hoodlums who call themselves The Boys of Fire….the female bandidas known as Las Verduras….and finally Jesus and his family. All of them have a significant life lesson that they teach Rhonda.

The Earthquake Machine is a novel rich in religious symbolism. This is not just a story about self discovery and coming of age, it is also about finding faith, grief, and finding ones way in society. I loved that the novel explored issue of cross cultural gender roles, I think that was one of the things that I liked best about this book.

I loved that Rhonda struggled with her womanhood and identified the limitations that gender often has. I think at one point or another every girl struggles to understand and accept the power that comes with being a woman.

This was one of the reasons why I loved the all female bandida group, Las Verduras. They knew the advantages of being ‘male’ and yet by being female, their sexuality and gender made them powerful but in a different way than when they were masquerading as men.

This is a very cutting edge, non-conventional, gritty self discovery novel (I love novels that push the lines of conventionality) and I especially liked that it addressed gender and cultural/social roles. The only thing I struggled with the novel was the language.

Writing in a different language is tricky. Lowry uses a lot of Spanish in the book, which is appropriate and fitting for the novel but I think non Spanish speakers might struggle to fully grasp the significance of the use of language. I speak some Spanish so I was able to read and appreciate the varied use of the language.

Though most of the Spanish is readable and understandable (or at the very least the reader can infer the meaning from the written context), I think it can be intimidating for some readers.

I liked that Lowry used the language in the book as it made the story more authentic, but I think it might limit the audience in some ways.

I am personally am not Hispanic (my husband is) but I have been exposed a lot to the Hispanic culture. I thought it was refreshing to read a novel with so much rich Hispanic culture. I loved the imagery and color especially the parts about Dia de Los Muertos. I think using Dia de Los Muertos as a way of approaching death was important and fitting for a novel like this. It made death not seem so dark and depressing.

I am very selective about my book reviews. I try to only accept review novels that really peak my interest and sound enticing. I enjoy reading books that are unconventional and intellectual and this book fit the bill!

My original major in college was Religious Studies so I could fully grasp and appreciate the religious symbolism in the novel. As part of my minor in college, I focused on gender roles in history so when Lowry approached me to review this book, I couldn’t say no….there were too many things that I knew would be right up my alley!

I have seen this book categorized as YA, but I don’t think I would place this book on a YA shelf…I would put it more in the contempo lit area. There were a lot of adult themes in the book and sexuality played a big role. Though the journey is about a young teenage girl, I think adults would appreciate the novel more than a teenager. I would say the demographic area is more 18-30 than YA which is typically 12-18.

When I started reading the story, I was really wondering how this was all going to come together, it sounded so far-fetched that I almost worried it wouldn’t work out and fit together. The story wasn’t at all what I was expecting it to be, it was much more than that.

I loved Lowry’s writing style, there were no filters and I really enjoy that kind of free, raw writing. I think it’s exciting. She perfectly captures the essence innocents and youth and the search for ones identity (sexually, socially, and culturally). I loved watching the evolution of Rhonda’s character, excellent job!

If you are looking for a cutting edge, raw contempo novel that pushes the boundaries of conventional literature, then this is the novel for you! 🙂

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry

  • Paperback, 326 pages (Kindle Edition)
  • Published September 2011 by AuthorHouse
  • ISBN 1456795856 (ISBN13: 9781456795856)

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 (a seductive contempo read)

Genre: Literature, contempo lit

Memorable lines/quotes:

From our roots we sometimes draw up poison

Things people don’t understand they call crazy

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2 Comments

  1. I definitely agree with you regarding the beauty of the Hispanic culture in this book. I have to admit that when I finished it I was seriously craving Mexican food. 😉

    I speak only the most rudimentary of conversational Spanish, and I wasn’t bothered or confused by the language in the book. I loved it!

    I also agree with you about the book’s designation- I do NOT think this is a YA book. The protagonist is young and it is a novel of self-discovery and coming-of-age, but there are so many disturbing aspects that are not explained in any certain terms that I fear the book could be extremely confusing for a young teen (particularly Rhonda and Mansk’s second meeting). I did, however, love that Rhonda WAS eventually able to accept her gender and sexuality in a positive way.

    Reply
  1. Author Interview & Giveaway: The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry « The Lit Bitch

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