The Lower River

( 11 )

Overview

“[Hock] knows he is ensorcelled by exoticism, but he can’t help himself. And, as things go from bad to worse and the pages start to turn faster, neither can we. A .”—Entertainment Weekly

When he was a young man, Ellis Hock spent four of the best years of his life with the Peace Corps in Malawi. So when his wife of forty-two years leaves him, he decides to return to the village where he was stationed in search of the happiness he’d been missing since he left. But what he finds is...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (72) from $1.99   
  • New (12) from $2.04   
  • Used (60) from $1.99   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 2
Showing 1 – 10 of 12 (2 pages)
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$2.09
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(297)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

New
Hardcover New 0547746504 XCITING PRICES JUST FOR YOU. Ships within 24 hours. Best customer service. 100% money back return policy.

Ships from: Bensalem, PA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$2.04
Seller since 2010

Feedback rating:

(726)

Condition: New
Hardcover New 0547746504! ! ! ! BEST PRICES WITH A SERVICE YOU CAN RELY! ! !

Ships from: Philadelphia, PA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$2.09
Seller since 2010

Feedback rating:

(972)

Condition: New
Hardcover New 0547746504 Friendly Return Policy. A+++ Customer Service!

Ships from: Philadelphia, PA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$2.09
Seller since 2011

Feedback rating:

(781)

Condition: New
Hardcover New 0547746504 SERVING OUR CUSTOMERS WITH BEST PRICES. FROM A COMPANY YOU TRUST, HUGE SELECTION. RELIABLE CUSTOMER SERVICE! ! HASSLE FREE RETURN POLICY, SATISFACTION ... GURANTEED**** Read more Show Less

Ships from: Philadelphia, PA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$2.04
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(444)

Condition: New
Hardcover New 0547746504! ! KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! ! ENJOY OUR BEST PRICES! ! ! Ships Fast. All standard orders delivered within 5 to 12 business days.

Ships from: Southampton, PA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$2.09
Seller since 2009

Feedback rating:

(2460)

Condition: New
2012-05-22 Hardcover 1 New 0547746504 Ships Within 24 Hours. Tracking Number available for all USA orders. Excellent Customer Service. Upto 15 Days 100% Money Back Gurantee. Try ... Our Fast! ! ! ! Shipping With Tracking Number. Read more Show Less

Ships from: Bensalem, PA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$3.98
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(229)

Condition: New
2012, New. 323 pages, Houghton Mifflin.. Daedalus Books, quality books, CDs and DVDs at bargain prices since 1980.

Ships from: Columbia, MD

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
$3.99
Seller since 2007

Feedback rating:

(3020)

Condition: New
2012 Hardcover New May have minor shelfwear, small DJ tear, cover mar or bumped corner. -May have sticker on cover.

Ships from: San Jose, CA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$6.00
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(8)

Condition: New
0547746504 Brand New. Ships with delivery confirmation same day of order. Guaranteed.

Ships from: Beachwood, OH

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$15.23
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(97)

Condition: New
New New condition. Free track! Fast shipping! Satisfication guaranteed!

Ships from: Media, PA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 2
Showing 1 – 10 of 12 (2 pages)
Close
Sort by
The Lower River

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.99
BN.com price
(Save 26%)$14.95 List Price

Overview

“[Hock] knows he is ensorcelled by exoticism, but he can’t help himself. And, as things go from bad to worse and the pages start to turn faster, neither can we. A .”—Entertainment Weekly

When he was a young man, Ellis Hock spent four of the best years of his life with the Peace Corps in Malawi. So when his wife of forty-two years leaves him, he decides to return to the village where he was stationed in search of the happiness he’d been missing since he left. But what he finds is not what he expected. The school he built is a ruin, the church and clinic are gone, and poverty and apathy have set in among the people.

They remember Ellis and welcome him with open arms. Soon, however, their overtures turn menacing; they demand money and refuse to let him leave the village. Is his new life an escape or a trap?

“Theroux’s bravely unsentimental novel about a region where he began his own grand career should become part of anybody’s education in the continent.”—Washington Post

The Lower River is riveting in its storytelling and provocative in its depiction of this African backwater, infusing both with undertones of slavery and cannibalism, savagery and disease.”—New York Times Book Review

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Theroux (Hotel Honolulu) draws on personal experience and literary antecedents (think Heart of Darkness) for his latest adventurous tale. Ellis Hock, 62, has a marriage in shambles, an estranged daughter, and a failing business. Hoping to escape the modern world and put his money and time to good use, he leaves Massachusetts for a place rich with fonder memories—a village in the Lower River district of Malawi, where Ellis served with the Peace Corps for four years in his 20s. But Malabo is not the quaint community that he left decades ago—the people are more suspicious and reticent. Perhaps interaction with Western NGOs has changed them, or maybe it’s just that Hock’s youthful optimism has dimmed with age. But the village remembers him—the mzungu who doesn’t fear snakes—and Hock finds himself ensnared in a situation far more complex than anything he expected. A somewhat slow exposition and occasional repetition aside, Theroux successfully grafts keen observations about the efficacy of international aid and the nature of nostalgia to a swift-moving narrative through a beautifully described landscape. Agent: Jin Auh, the Wylie Agency. (May)
Library Journal
When his wife leaves him, Ellis Hock decides to return to the one place he was really happy—the remote Lower River in Malawi, where he served in the Peace Corps. But when he arrives, he finds only rubble where the school he built once stood. Theroux asks pointed questions (as only Theroux can) about contemporary Africa and the consequences of the West's do-gooding efforts. Expect the best.
Kirkus Reviews
A joyful return to Africa turns into a nightmare for the elderly American protagonist of Theroux's extraordinary novel. As a young man, Ellis Hock loved teaching in Malawi for the Peace Corps, happiest years of his life. (Theroux did a hitch there; see his early novel Jungle Lovers.) Then he had to return to suburban Boston to run the men's-clothing store he'd inherited. Thirty-five years later, the store and his marriage having failed, he returns to Malawi for a nostalgia-induced vacation. He's warned on arrival that people are hungry and only want money, but he heads into the bush with a bagful of it, another mzungu (white man) who knows best. Malabo, the remote riverbank village where he's remembered as the mzungu who helped build the school and clinic, gives him a warm welcome, but Hock's disillusion sets in fast. The school is a ruin; the visiting doctor is a quack; AIDS is rampant; requests for money are constant. The villagers keep him under surveillance at the direction of the headman Manyenga, who is all smiles and lies. One bright spot is his reunion with Gala, the woman he loved, and the presence of her 16-year-old granddaughter Zizi, who waits on Hock and is fiercely loyal to him. The snakes, too, are a blessing. They terrify the villagers, but Hock handles them fearlessly, using them as protection once he realizes he is being held captive. He makes three escape attempts. The second takes him downriver into Mozambique. There Hock runs into a community of starving but deadly children and a food drop, horribly bungled by white Westerners; these scenes are devastating. All his escapes are foiled by the formidable Manyenga. The suspense is enriched by Theroux's loving attention to local customs and his subversive insights. As Hock weakens in body and spirit, Zizi just grows stronger. Could she be his savior? Theroux has recaptured the sweep and density of his 1981 masterpiece The Mosquito Coast. That's some achievement.
The Washington Post
The strengths of this novel…are numerous. For deep-in-the-bush scene-setting, Theroux has no peer. The muck and the stench of the Lower River ooze off the pages, along with a wide variety of snakes that Hock learned to handle during his first visit…And the human landscape in the remote village of Malabo is just as indelible…Theroux's bravely unsentimental novel about a region where he began his own grand career should become part of anybody's education in the continent.
—Richard Lipez
From the Publisher
"It’s a particular kind of frightening fun to watch evil flexing and spreading its leathery wings, and really feel it. The Lower River gives the reader just that."—The New York Review of Books "The Lower River is riveting in its storytelling and provocative in its depiction of this African backwater, infusing both with undertones of slavery and cannibalism, savagery and disease. Theroux exposes paternalism in Hock’s Peace Corps nostalgia, his ‘sense of responsibility, almost a conceit of ownership.’ That sense of responsibility, and Hock’s modest contribution to the welfare of a people he was once genuinely fond of, has been replaced by a harsher mode of operation, run by coldhearted contractors living apart in impregnable compounds. ‘I have to leave,’ Hock pleads. ‘I’m going home.’ To which the village headman replies, with chilling menace, ‘This is your home, father.’ "—New York Times Book Review
 
“[Hock] knows he is ensorcelled by exoticism, but he can’t help himself. And, as things go from bad to worse and the pages start to turn faster, neither can we. A .”—Entertainment Weekly

 
“Theroux’s bravely unsentimental novel about a region where he began his own grand career should become part of anybody’s education in the continent.”—Washington Post

"In this hypnotically compelling fiction, [Theroux] wrestles with questions of good intentions and harsh reality...A gripping and vital novel that reads like Conrad or Greene—in short, a classic."—Booklist, starred
 

"Theroux successfully grafts keen observations about the efficacy of international aid and the nature of nostalgia to a swift-moving narrative through a beautifully described landscape."—PW, starred
 

"Extraordinary...The suspense is enriched by Theroux’s loving attention to local customs and his subversive insights...Theroux has recaptured the sweep and density of his 1981 masterpiece The Mosquito Coast. That’s some achievement."—Kirkus, starred
 
"Theroux's latest can be read as straight-up suspense, but those unafraid of following him into the heart of darkness will be rewarded with much to discuss in this angry, ironic depiction of misguided philanthropy in a country dense with natural resources yet unable to feed its people."—Library Journal

The Barnes & Noble Review

If the purpose of travel is to be disabused of illusions, then Ellis Hock, the protagonist of Paul Theroux's novel The Lower River, has spent his airfare wisely. Recently separated from his bullying wife, Hock sells his Medford, Massachusetts, haberdashery and sets out to the village in Malawi where he taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer forty years ago. As a young man in that village, he found and lost love, became adept at handling serpents, and spent his life's happiest years improving the village. Everything in his life since then — a marriage undermined by his wandering eye, a business crashing toward obsolescence, a daughter greedy for an early taste of her inheritance — has reeked of failure, and eventually the temptation to escape to Africa proves irresistible.

The village he remembers was an idyll. On return it is a literal and metaphorical snake pit, filled with fork-tongued false friends, threats to his health, and rapacious children of all ages. He is wrenched uncomfortably from the world he knows and begins a tortured existence as if "on another planet, as a despised fugitive, and not on the surface of that planet but on a river in an eerily lit underworld." His school stands ruined, and his pupils have departed or died, leaving only a generation of uneducated thugs who welcome him only to milk him like a cow, depleting his money, health, and sanity. His impulse to give school supplies to the village's children marks him as a fool, and despite all his local knowledge and linguistic skills, he doesn't realize he's a sucker until it's too late.

His hosts become his captors, and when he tries to escape into the bush, he is beset by gangs of AIDS-stricken orphans, who threaten to kill or kidnap him. The bulk of the narrative, after an entertainingly pathetic sketch of his life in Medford, consists in Hock's attempts to break free of his hosts' stifling hospitality, if it can be called that. For a price, they give him food and shelter, and they imply that he can leave whenever. But the transport back to the commercial capital, Blantyre, is infrequent, and in any case no one wants Hock and his money to leave. When he tries, he is thwarted, and anyone who takes pity on him faces violent rebuke. So he remains in a prison-without-walls, sick and desperate and captive, like the writer in Misery.

If this nightmare sounds outlandishly dark and violent, I might offer a humble word of corroboration. Over a decade ago, as a scruffy backpacker, I roamed this same portion of the Malawi-Mozambique border, first off the main roads and eventually off roads altogether. I ended up in villages like Hock's and was welcomed and hosted. But I soon wanted to go — and like Hock, I suffered alarming delays that suggested I would leave on the villagers' schedule, not on my own. Unlike Hock, I had arrived cash-poor and malodorous, so the villagers weren't tempted to keep me for too long. Even during those few days, though, I witnessed grisly violence (a love triangle: one man hacked his rival in the face with a machete) and experienced the psychologically unsettling limbo of being both guest and prisoner, surveilled at all times by eyes peeking from behind every tree and termite mound.

So to this escapee, the narrative feels like a plausible worst-case scenario — especially for a visitor who, like Hock, flashes money and overestimates his ability to read the people and terrain. That overestimation is the theme of this novel: Hock's years in the village are no match for the years away. The people are barely human but rather "reptilian" — "like bush creatures, snakes in dead leaves, lizards on rocks, blending with their surroundings and only their eyelids flicking." His deepest desire on returning is to reconnect with a flame, someone he once considered marrying. He finds her alone still recognizable, and the one person in the village whose thoughts and words he can trust. Unfortunately, her advice is unambiguous. "They will eat your money," she says. "When your money is gone, they will eat you."

It's instructive to compare The Lower River, whose sole sympathetic African character is this old woman whose character appears mostly in flashback, with Theroux's early Africa writings. (Many of the details in this novel echo previous work, such as the putzi flies in World's End, the sweaty erotic fumbling with young African women in My Other Life, the chiggers that burrow under toenails in Fresh-Air Fiend, the sexual captivity in My Secret History.) His first novels and short stories were enchanted with the continent and showed Africans possessing ingenuity and humor. Now the human characters have receded into the background, and Hock is alone in this plight, with many of the human emotions he attributes to villagers really just projections of his own memory and desire. These acts of projection lead to disaster.

It's a pity that Theroux's late work lacks the affection for Africa that gave his early novels such energy and character. Both are missed here, even if the grimness of the tale is plausible. Theroux returned to Malawi — he, too, was a Peace Corps volunteer in a village there — in his 2002 travelogue Dark Star Safari, an appalled look at how his own paradise had changed. This novel is very much the disenchanted, pessimistic, late-Theroux take on Africa, full of implicit scolding for those who propose to help a benighted continent, and of warning for those foolish enough to hope that paradise stays in suspended animation after you leave it behind.

Instead it changes, and its year-rounders grow desperate and resentful in response to their own poverty and the insulting charity of foreigners. There is an aid agency, L'Agence Anonyme, operating in an ineffective, Orwellian way, at the fringes of the village where Hock is held. And at one point a celebrity humanitarian duo resembling Bono and Angelina Jolie shovel food aid out of a helicopter; Theroux compares this chaos to animals feeding at a trough. The Lower River's ideal for foreign involvement in Africa is to come, as the young Hock did, "with nothing — nothing to steal, nothing to tempt or distract them, as a visiting bystander, detached, on the periphery where foreigners belonged, with only the clothes he stood up in and a ticket home."

The best that can be said for the main African characters — the ones who engineer Hock's captivity and plot to profit from it — is that they are, unlike Hock and the other foreigners, undeluded. They see where the money is, and they are ruthless and cruel in its pursuit. It is an ugly lesson for Hock, but perhaps to be disabused you have to be abused first.

Graeme Wood is a staff editor at The Atlantic. His articles and reviews have appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker, Good magazine, andThe American.

Reviewer: Graeme Wood

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547746500
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/22/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Theroux

PAUL THEROUX's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania . He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Part One
Saying Goodbye

Ellis hock’s wife gave him a new phone for his birthday. A smart phone, she said. “And guess what?” She had a coy, ham-actress way of offering presents, often pausing with a needy wink to get his full attention. “It’s going to change your life.” Hock smiled because he was turning sixty-two, not an age of life-altering shocks but only of subtle diminishments. “It’s got a whole bunch of functions,” Deena said. It looked frivolous to him, like a costly fragile toy. “And it’ll be useful at the store”—Hock’s Menswear in Medford Square. His own phone was fine, he said. It was an efficient little fist, with a flip-up lid and one function. “You’re going to thank me.” He thanked her, but weighed his old phone in his hand, as a contradiction, showing her that his life wasn’t changing.
  To make her point (her gift-giving could be hostile at times, and this seemed like one of them), Deena kept the new phone but registered it in his name, using his personal email account. After she was signed up, she received his entire year’s mail up to that day, all the messages that Hock had received and sent, thousands of them, even the ones he had thought he’d deleted, many of them from women, many of those affectionate, so complete a revelation of his private life that he felt he’d been scalped—worse than scalped, subjected to the dark magic of the sort of mganga he had known long ago in Africa, a witch doctor–diviner turning him inside out, the slippery spilled mess of his entrails stinking on the floor. Now he was a man with no secrets, or rather, all his secrets exposed to a woman he’d been married to for thirty-three years, for whom his secrets were painful news.
  “Who are you?” Deena asked him, a ready-made question she must have heard somewhere—which movie? But it was she who seemed like a stranger, with mad gelatinous eyes, and furious clutching hands holding the new phone like a weapon, her bulgy features fixed on him in a purplish putty-like face of rage. “I’m hurt!” And she did look wounded. Her recklessness roused his pity and made him afraid, as though she’d been drinking.
  Hock hesitated, the angry woman demanded to know everything, but really she already knew everything, his most intimate thoughts were all on that phone. She didn’t know why, but neither did he. She screamed for details and explanations. “Who is Tina? Who is Janey?” How could he deny what was plainly shown on the screen of his new phone, covert messages, sent and received, that she’d known nothing about? “You snake! You signed them ‘love’!”
  He saw, first with relief, almost hilarity, then horror, and finally sadness, that nothing in his life was certain now except that his marriage was ending.

He put it down to solitude. He did not want to say loneliness. He owned a men’s clothing store, and business had been—you said slow, not bad—for years. The store was failing. The history of the store was the history of his family in Medford, their insertion in the town, their wish to belong. Ellis’s grandfather, an Italian immigrant, had been apprenticed to a tailor on his arrival in New York. His first paying job was with the man’s cousin, also a tailor, in rural Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he arrived on the train, knowing no English. He helped to make suits for the wealthy college students there. Though he was no older than they were, he knelt beside them, unspooling the tape against their bodies, and shyly spoke their measurements in Italian. Three years of this and then a job as a cutter in a tailor shop in Boston’s North End. On his marriage, striking out on his own, he borrowed money from his widowed mother-in-law (who was to live with them until she died) and rented space in Medford Square, opening his own tailor shop.
  The move to Medford involved another move, more tidying: he became a new man, changing his name from Francesco Falcone to Frank Hock. He had asked a tailor in the North End to translate falcone, and the man had said “hawk,” in the local way, and the scarcely literate man had written it in tailor’s chalk on a remnant of cloth, spelling it as he heard it. This was announced on a sign: Hock’s Tailors. Frank became known as a master tailor, with bolts of fine-quality woolen cloth, and linen, and silk, and Egyptian cotton, stacked on his shelves. He smoked cigars as he sewed and, still only in his thirties, employed two assistants as cutters and for basting. His wife, Angelina, bore him three sons, the eldest baptized Andrea, called Andrew, whom he designated as his apprentice. Business was good, and Frank Hock so frugal he saved enough to buy his shop and eventually the whole building. He had income from the tenants on the upper floors and from the other shops, including a Chinese laundry, Yee’s, next door. Joe Yee pressed the finished suits and gave him a red box of dried lychees every Christmas.
  When Andrew Hock returned from the Second World War, Medford Square began to modernize. Old Frank turned the business over to Andrew, who had worked alongside his father. But Andrew had no interest in the fussy drudgery of tailoring. Plagued with arthritis in his hands, the old man retired. Andrew sold the building and bought a premises in a newly built row of stores on Riverside Avenue—the Mystic River ran just behind it—and started Hock’s Menswear, as an improvement on Frank’s tailor shop on Salem Street.
  Ellis was born the year after Hock’s Menswear opened, and later he, too, worked in the store throughout high school most afternoons, tramping the foot pedal and bringing down the lid of the pressing machine in the basement tailor shop, with the tailor Jack Azanow, a Russian immigrant. Ellis also buffed shoes and folded shirts and rearranged the jackets after customers fingered them, milking the sleeves—his father’s expression. Now and then he made a sale. Christmases were busy, and festive with the frantic pleasure of people looking for presents, spending more money than usual, asking for the item to be gift-wrapped, another of Ellis’s jobs. The activity of the store at this season, and Easter, and Father’s Day—the vitality of it, the obvious profit—almost convinced him that he might make a career of the business. But the certainty of it alarmed him like a life sentence. He hated the notion of confinement in the store, but what was the alternative?
  On graduation from Boston University, a biology major, facing the draft—Vietnam—he applied to join the Peace Corps and was accepted. He was sent to a country he’d never heard of, Nyasaland, soon to be the independent Republic of Malawi, and became a teacher at a bush school in a district known as the Lower River. There was something mystical in the name, as though it was an underworld tributary of the River Styx—distant and dark. But “lower” meant only south, and the river was obscured by two great swamps, one called the Elephant Marsh, the other one the Dinde.
  He was happy in the Lower River, utterly disconnected from home, and even from the country’s capital, on this unknown and unregarded riverbank, where he lived in the village of Malabo on his own as a schoolteacher, the only foreigner; supremely happy.
  After two years, he re-upped for another two years, and one afternoon toward the end of his fourth year, a message was delivered to him by a consular driver in a Land Rover, a telegram that had been received by the U.S. consulate: For Ellis Hock at Malabo. Dad very ill. Please call. There was no phone in the village, and the trunk line at the boma, the district’s headquarters, was not working. Hock rode back to Blantyre in the Land Rover, and there, on the consul’s own phone, he spoke to his tearful mother.
  He had been so content he had never grappled with the detail of leaving the Lower River, and yet, two days after receiving the message he was on a plane to Rhodesia, and by separate laborious legs, to Nairobi, London, New York, and Boston. Finally back in Medford, he was seated at his father’s hospital bedside.
  His father beamed with surprise when he saw him, as though Ellis’s return was a coincidence, nothing to do with his failing health. They kissed, they held hands, and less than two weeks later, struggling to breathe, Ellis hugging the old man’s limp body, his father died. It was three in the morning; his mother had gone home to sleep.
  “Are you all right?” the night nurse asked, after she confirmed that his father had drawn his last breath.
  “Yes,” Ellis said, and mocked himself for the lie. But he was too fearful of telling the truth, because he was himself dying from misery.
  He went home, and when she woke at seven he told his mother, who wailed. He could not stop weeping. An old friend, Roy Junkins, hearing that he was home from Africa, called the next day. Ellis sobbed as he spoke to him, unable to control himself, but finding no more shame in his tears than if he had been bleeding. And something about that moment—the phone call, the tears—made a greater bond between the two men.
  After the funeral, the reading of the will: Hock’s Menswear was his. His mother was apportioned a sum of money and the family house.
  “Papa wanted you to have the store.”
  He’d left Africa suddenly—so suddenly it was as if he’d abandoned an irretrievable part of himself there. He’d actually left a whole household: his cook and all his belongings, clothes, binoculars, shortwave radio, his pet snakes in baskets and cages. What he’d brought home was what had fitted in one suitcase.
  He was now, aged twenty-six, the sole owner of Hock’s Menswear. He had employees—salesmen, the tailor Azanow, a woman who kept the books—and loyal customers. Within a few years he married Deena, and not much more than a year later Deena gave birth to a daughter, Claudia, whom they called Chicky.
  The life sentence he had once feared, he was now serving: the family business, his wife, his child, his house in the Lawrence Estates, inherited from his mother after she died. Every day except Sunday he drove to the store at eight, parked behind it, facing the Mystic River, checked the inventory and deliveries with Les Armstrong and Mike Corbett, and opened at nine. At noon, a sandwich at Savage’s, the deli across Riverside Avenue; after lunch, the store. Sometimes Les or Mike reminisced about their years in the army, in dreamy voices, but they were always talking about war. Ellis knew how they felt, but didn’t mention Africa except to his friend Roy, who sometimes dropped in. At five-thirty, when Les and the others left, he locked the front door and went home to dinner.
  It was the life that many people led, and luckier than most. Having a men’s store in Medford Square made his work also social, and selling expensive clothes meant he dressed well.
  Over thirty years of this. He rarely took a vacation, though Deena rented a cottage at the Cape in the summer. He drove down on Saturday evenings to spend Sunday with her and Chicky. And after her parents moved to Florida, Deena spent weeks with them. Chicky grew up, graduated from Emerson College, got married, and bought a condo in Belmont.
  Nothing would ever change, he felt. Yet changes came, first as whispers, then as facts. Business slackened, Medford Square changed, its texture fraying, a Vietnamese restaurant displacing Savage’s Deli, then the closing of Woolworth’s and Thom McAn. The shoe menders and the laundry and the TV repairers vanished, and the worst sign of all, some storefronts were empty, some windows broken. The old bakery that had sold fresh bread was now a donut shop, another chain. A new mall at Wellington Circle with large department stores and many smaller stores was now the place to shop. Hock’s Menswear was quieter, but still dignified, which made it seem sadder, like the relic the tailor shop had been—a men’s clothing store in a city center that was shrunken and obsolete.
  But the building—the real estate—was his equity. Ellis saw a time, not far off, when he would sell the premises and live in retirement on the proceeds. In the meantime, he kept to his hours, eight to five-thirty. He waited on customers himself, as he had always done, to set an example, simply to talk, to listen, to hear about other people’s lives, their experiences in the world beyond the front door of Hock’s. With only one other salesman these days he did this more often, and liked it, in fact looked forward to talking with customers, whose experiences became his.
  He knew the business was doomed, but talk kept it alive, as conversation with a bedridden invalid offers the illusion of hope. The malls and the big chain stores, blessed with space and inventory, prospered because they employed few clerks, or sales associates as they were now called. Hock’s was the sort of store where clerk and customer discussed the color of a tie, the style of a suit, the drape of a coat, the fit of a sweater. “It’s meant to be a bit roomy” and “This topcoat isn’t as dressy as that one.” Nor did the newer stores offer Hock’s quality—Scottish tweeds, English shirts, argyle socks, Irish knitwear, Italian leather goods, even Italian fedoras, and shoes from the last great shoemakers in the United States. Hock’s still sold vests, cravats, and Tyrolean hats in velour, with a twist of feathers in the hatband. Quality was suggested in the very words for the merchandise—the apparel, rather: hosiery, slacks, knitwear; a vest was a weskit.
  Every transaction was a conversation, sometimes lengthy, about the finish of the fabric, the weather, the state of the world. This human touch, the talk, relieved the gloom of the empty store and took the curse off it. The customer was usually an older man in search of a tie or a good shirt or a sport coat. But often a woman was looking for a present for her husband, or her father or brother. Ellis detained them with his talk, explaining the possible choices. “These socks wear like iron” and “This shirt is Sea Island cotton—the best” and “This camel’s hair will actually get more comfortable with age, softer with each dry cleaning.”
  In the past eight or ten years he’d asked the likelier ones, women mostly, “Do we have your email address on file?” As a result he found himself in occasional touch, clarifying, offering suggestions for a new purchase, describing sale items, often adding a personal note, a line or two, mildly flirtatious. They had bought clothes for trips; he asked about those trips. This was his early-morning activity, on his office computer, when he was alone, feeling small in his solitude, to lift his spirits, so he could face the banality of the day. The harmless whispers soothed him, eased some hunger in his heart, not sex but an obscure yearning. Many women responded in the same spirit: a cheerful word was welcome to them.
  Over the past few years these email messages had come to represent a constant in his life, a narrative of friendships, glowing in warmth, inspiring confidences, private allusions, requests for help or advice. But since he met the women only when they came into the store, which was rare, these were safe, no more than inconclusive whispers in the dark, though compared to the monotony of his storekeeper’s day, they were like the breath of rapture.
  There were about twenty or thirty such women whom he’d befriended this way, various ages, near and far, and these included old friends, his high school sweetheart and senior prom date. Still living in the town where he’d been born, he was saturated with the place. He’d been away for only those four years in Africa, as a young teacher in the district of the Lower River.
  When Deena showed him the full year of his email he was more shocked by its density than by the warmth of his confidences—though he was taken aback by glimpses of what he’d written. Writing was a way of forgetting, yet now it was all returned to him and he was reminded of everything he’d said. He did not know that a phone, even a high-tech computer-like device like that, could access so many messages, ones that he’d sent and received, twelve months of them, including ones that he’d deleted (which was most of them), that he’d believed, having dragged them to the trash-basket icon, were gone forever.
  But they reappeared, arriving in a long unsorted list, a chronicle of his unerasable past, much of which he’d forgotten. And so the interrogation began, Deena saying, “I want to know everything”—another movie line? She held his entire memory in her hand, his secret history of the past year, and so, “Who is Rosie?” and “Tell me about Vickie.”
  He was mute with embarrassment and anger. Ashamed, appalled, he could not account for the number of messages or explain his tone of flirtatious encouragement, his intimacies to strangers, all the irrelevant detail. He talked to them about his day, about their travel, about books, about his childhood; and they did the same, relating their own stories.
  “What is your problem, Ellis!”
  He didn’t know. He bowed his head, more to protect himself from her hitting him than in atonement. From the moment he got home from work, for a month or more, he and Deena argued. Her last words to him in bed at night were hisses of recrimination. And when he woke, yawning, slipping from a precarious farcical dream, but before he could recall the email crisis, she began again, clanging at him, her tongue like the clapper of a bell, her finger in his face, shrieking that she’d been betrayed. Some mornings, after a night of furious arguing, the back-and-forth of pleading and abuse, he woke half demented, his head hurting as though with an acute alcoholic hangover, and couldn’t work.
  Deena demanded detail, but the few scraps he offered only angered her more; and she was unforgiving, so what was the point? It all seemed useless, a howl of pain. She was a yelling policeman who’d caught him red-handed in a crime, not yelling for the truth—she knew it all—but because she was in the right, wishing only to hurt and humiliate him, to see him squirm, to make him suffer.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(3)

4 Star

(3)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Good writing but a little painful to read

    If you liked the "Mosquito Coast," you will like this book, which describes a slow deterioration of a person in a slowly deteriorating society. It's a lesson that you can't go back again. A good reading experience, but somewhat painful to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 6, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Ellis Hock has had enough. At age 62 he has spent more than enou

    Ellis Hock has had enough. At age 62 he has spent more than enough time in his once successful but sadly going out of style high end men's clothing store.

    His wife has left him and his adult daughter wants nothing from him but his money.

    He is adrift with only his dreams of the happiest time in his life as a young man working in the Peace Corps on the lower river in Africa more than 40 years ago.

    Ellis thinks that going back to a happier time in his life will full fill a dream he once thought was lost along with a woman he left behind.

    Once in Africa, he feels refreshed & invigorated with a new purpose in life, he will spend his hard earned money on school supplies, canned goods & clothing items for the poor, impoverished peoples of Africa and for the school he built so long ago and hopes is still there.

    With no good information or real idea of what is actually happening in Africa and words of caution from the locals about life now on the lower river, he sets off.

    When he arrives the place he once knew of course has changed and what happens next is a sad and telling account of one mans delusional venture to try and reclaim the past.

    This is a wonderful, very scary and suspenseful tale of the world we live in now, full of fantastic descriptions of a modern Africa the good, the bad and of one lonely sad man.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 1, 2012

    Great fiction and perhaps an all-too-real snapshot of poverty in East Africa

    Another great book by Theroux, more travel fiction than travelogue this time. Through a gripping narrative that spirals inwards towards its conclusion, Theroux gives us an unvarnished, probably realistic inside view into poverty, corruption and ineffective NGOs in certain parts of Africa. Great summer read and instructive as well, although perhaps not as rosy as one would hope for this continent very slowly inching its way into modernity. Theroux's writing is superb, and the characters are developed deeply and successfully.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2012

    Fabulous!!!!

    Beautifully written. Deep, wonderful characters. Intrigue, suspense. An unusual location and story. Impossible to put down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)