The Pacific Between
by Raymond K. Wong
Published by Behler
228 pages, 2006
A Dramatic Ride
Reviewed by Amy Brozio-Andrews
Raymond K. Wong's The Pacific Between is a roller coaster ride of drama. The opening chapters build slowly as Wong carefully sets his stage. His liberal use of flashbacks to protagonist Greg's teenage years spent in Hong Kong flesh out the main character completely, sharpening for the reader the motivation that drives Greg to revisit his past.
Greg Lockland had long had a difficult relationship with his father. Always feeling like he didn't measure up to the elder Lockland's high standards, when his parents die unexpectedly, Greg is left with a bundle of mixed feelings and raw emotions.
When the contents of his father's safe deposit box reveal an intimate letter from Lian, Greg's girlfriend of more than a decade ago, those unresolved feelings coalesce and harden into anger and betrayal. He is driven to abandon his comfortable life and his current girlfriend for Hong Kong, where he intends to find out whether or not his suspicions about his father and Lian will be borne out.
Revisiting Hong Kong for the first time in many years unleashes a flood of memories for Greg -- happier times spent as a student, hanging out with his friends and flirting with Lian, as well as the painful experience of not meeting his doctor father's expectations of responsibility. It feels good to reconnect with old family friends and colleagues, but Greg is desperate for any word of Lian and where he might find her.
Once he does, Greg all but feels the ground shift beneath him. Pressing her for details about the letter he found, Greg gets no answers from Lian. Her cryptic statements only leave him with more questions. As Greg digs deeper, mining his memories and current knowledge of Lian for clues, he finds that the old adage that things are never what they seem rings too true for comfort. Risking all he holds dear, Greg's blind pursuit of answers to his questions brings him closer than ever to the father he had such a contentious relationship with. But more important than the circumstances under which Lian's letter was written is what Greg will do about it.
As the novel progresses, Wong plays his cards close the vest, only revealing enough of the story to keep the reader hooked, wondering why Lian wrote the letter, what the extent of her relationship with Greg's father was, and what it all means for Greg in the present. The reappearance of many of his friends and his father's colleagues from Greg's youth highlight the ways in which he has and hasn't grown and matured over the years, painting a complex figure that really engages the reader -- both in Greg himself and in the mystery at hand.
Once the climax is reached, the reader is rewarded with an incredible rush as the pace increases considerably, mimicking Greg's growing understanding of how and why he and Lian are at this place; this strained impasse. As the novel comes full circle, Greg faces a life-altering decision. The reader is left breathless awaiting Greg's choice between two paths and the tension is palpable -- in the action, the dialogue, the language and pace of the writing.
The shifting time frame from chapter to chapter is a bit ambiguous in some parts of the book, however this is nothing so serious that the reader can't find the characters' place in time within a few lines. The reward far outweighs this minor flaw. Glimpses of the characters as they were when Greg first knew them juxtaposed with where they are today offers the reader great insight into their true selves, including clues as to who may be hiding what and why.
Wong's writing is highly descriptive. He effectively bridges the distance to Hong Kong in terms of geography, architecture, and culture, especially for readers who have never been there. While there are occasional instances of language that feels forced, overall, the prose is tight and effective, eliciting just the right mix of tension, curiosity and compassion from the reader.
Wong's secondary characters are quirky without being caricatures -- they're real and they're memorable. He's got a knack for dialogue and humor in all the right places that keeps the book from becoming too serious or dark. The empathy the reader comes to feel for Greg is genuine.
The Pacific Between has appeal for fans of both literary fiction and mystery. With its dynamic plot, complex characters and slow revelation of the true nature of the web of intimacies among Greg, Lian and his father, Wong's book is a satisfying and memorable read. | January 2006
Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer.