Hawking Up Hairballs

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Against Gravity

Against Gravity by Farnoosh Moshiri is a disappointing novel. It starts out so well. Madison Kirby is living in a rundown garage apartment in Houston, Texas. He is dying of AIDS, and conceives an affection for a neighbor, Roya Saarabi, an Iranian immigrant. Madison wants her to marry him, so that he doesn’t have to live out his last days alone. The trouble is that he’s a madman, who doesn’t know how to form a relationship, and his odd behavior puts Roya off.

Madison is seeing a counselor by the name of Rico Cardinal at a nearby social agency. When Madison observes Rico and Roya eating together at a restaurant, he realizes that they have begun dating, and he interprets this as a betrayal. He resolves to kill Roya in revenge.

The book is roughly divided into three parts, each the story of one of the three main characters. The first story is Madison’s, the second Roya’s, and the third Rico’s. It is the first story that ends with Madison’s homicidal decision. In the second, Roya relates the story of how she escaped from Iran. It’s a dull narrative, one of those that tends to go: this happened, then this happened, then this happened, etc. Yawn.

In Roya’s story we are told that Madison didn’t succeed in killing her. That’s right, we’re told, and from right out of the blue. It isn’t until the end of Rico’s story that a homeless and now utterly insane Madison emerges to accidently kill a secondary character, Bobby Palomo, while trying to revenge himself upon Roya. We are supposed to empathize with this Palomo, but I didn’t. He had befriended Roya’s twelve-year-old daughter, Tala. Unbeknownst to Roya, Palomo has been teaching Tala how to shoot a pistol. He is suicidal and, as it turns out, he intends to trick Tala into killing him because he doesn’t have the courage to do it himself. Fortunately for Tala, she fails and Palomo’s head is only grazed by the bullet. Palomo subsequently disappears, only to return later. He is reconciled with Roya and Tala, and becomes something like a member of the family. It is then, in Rico’s story, that we learn that Palomo is killed when Madison is trying to shoot Roya.

I don’t buy it. If I was in Roya’s shoes, I might forgive Palomo, but I sure as hell wouldn’t welcome him back into my life or that of Tala’s. As a reader, I also felt that Moshiri betrayed my dramatic expectations. When I learned that Madison intended to kill Roya, I was expecting some sort of resolution, but I was denied that. In itself, that was a disappointment but then I learn that Madison tried to kill her after all, but shot Palomo by mistake. That hews close to a deus ex machina.

There’s something else that struck me. The two male characters, Madison and Rico, are the more interesting, and they are much more fleshed out than Roya, though it is Roya whose history most closely approximates that of Moshiri herself. (Approximates, but not all that closely, as Moshiri points out in an interview appended to the book for the paperback edition.) Perhaps Moshiri was too close to the character, but this just serves to further undermine the novel, since Roya is the center about which the novel revolves.

I bought Against Gravity on impulse at Barnes and Noble. It’s the third straight disappointing work of fiction that I have so purchased. I guess it’s about time that I learn my lesson.


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