EMBASSY Spouse. By Katie Crouch. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 366 pages. $27.
If the knockout go over — a zappy zebra tiramisu of very hot pink, purple and blue — does not get you, Katie Crouch’s opening pages will. Instantly the reader will get drawn, quicksand-like, into the broad, arid exoticness of Namibia, an African expanse of crimson dust and brown, dry hills, exactly where the 41-calendar year-aged Amanda Evans reluctantly finds herself attempting to acclimate to expat existence.
Just before her spouse Mark, an everlasting Ph.D. applicant, allegedly received a Fulbright and grew to become a “special tutorial advisor” to the American Embassy in Windhoek, Amanda experienced been a high-doing Silicon Valley exec. Now, she’s both suffocating less than in the oppressive African heat and the abrupt demotion from obtaining been the family’s breadwinner and corner-business COO to remaining a “trailing partner.”
But never fear, there’s enough embassy intrigue and PTA drama at her daughter’s international university to keep equally Amanda and the reader enthralled.
Crouch, a Charleston native, is in leading variety in this, her fourth novel — component comedy, section insightful social and cultural critique, aspect sheer delight. The whip-smart feeling of humor that gained her “Wittiest” honors (a title shared with her great mate and fellow novelist, Grady Hendrix) in the Porter-Gaud 1991 yearbook is absolutely evident right here.
Crouch brings unforgettable characters to everyday living a person brilliant element, a person deft bite of dialogue at a time, and locations the action amid the truth of the matter-is-stranger-than-fiction backdrop that diplomats and expats confronted when, from 2016 to 2020, they represented an administration led by an “Oompa Loompa” who denigrated the whole African continent by contacting it an unprintable slur.
There’s Persephone Wilder, social chairman of the Embassy wives (“the most overqualified continue to be-at-dwelling moms’ and dads’ club in the world”), normally immaculately attired in dazzling all-white ensembles and breathtaking Mila Shilongo, an African elegance with a mysterious previous whose “skin was dim, polished and poreless her confront, a masterpiece of planes and curves, centered by prolonged-lashed eyes the coloration of maple syrup” and who sported “the sort of higher heels with crimson soles Melania Trump favored when traveling to prisons for toddlers.” And Amanda, who “had at the time been so in like she’d almost tattooed (Mark’s) identify on her reduce back,” and who now finds herself in foreign territory on numerous fronts — in her flailing relationship, as mom of pre-adolescent, moody Meg with whom she when shared a fierce bond, and in her personal perception of id.
The book’s subtitle could be: “Welcome to Center Age.”
Crouch is on a prose safari, and the wildlife she’s so adept at spotting, camouflaged in its indigenous habitat, is of the human assortment. It’s tricky to picture she could generate a novel this nuanced and very carefully observed with out some firsthand expertise, and in simple fact, Crouch did expend a year in Namibia although her spouse, author Peter Orner, was a Fulbright Scholar there.
The reader learns about Namibia’s prosperous and troubled history, the German genocide of the Nama and Herero people today, the gem mining and animal poaching and the still-oozing wounds of colonialism and apartheid.
But Crouch never ever receives preachy and pedantic in its place, she does what fiction on your own invites a proficient writer to do. She wonderful-tunes the lens of colonialism and exploitation, exhibiting how marriages and friendships can mirror the very same impulses, heck, how even a PTA fundraiser can implode into hilarious disaster of micro-aggression and a single-upmanship alongside with 500 kilograms of wild match meat.
There is so significantly to like in “Embassy Spouse,” from Countrywide Geographic-deserving descriptions of African landscape and culture, to Countrywide Lampoon-deserving humor, moreover plot twists and turns that would have Tarzan tangled in vines. Crouch’s a lot of divergent storylines retain the internet pages turning, and the reader is well prepared for some more than-the-top rated climax (maybe simply because, like fantastic Charlestonians, we have all been binging “Outer Banks”).
Alternatively Crouch provides it all residence in a quietly satisfying way. She writes, “you could love a put deeply without the need of understanding it at all. And (Amanda) experienced, in actuality, arrive to really like Namibia. She cherished the aching heat and the merciless sunshine and the way everyone stated How beautiful! just about every time it rained. She’d been a very small dot on the hugest landscape she’d at any time seen, and what that informed her was that she experienced electrical power more than completely almost nothing.”
As an author, Crouch has complete electrical power in excess of her fictional earth, a power she wields with aching insight and merciless command of language. We say How gorgeous! each time she displays us, as Mila tells Amanda, “in the end, you cannot be who you are not.”
Reviewer Stephanie Hunt is a author dependent in the Charleston spot.