When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The adults are lulled by the ship's comfort and ease. The four children--ages six to eleven--love the nonstop buffet and their newfound independence. But when they all go ashore for an adventure in Central America, a series of minor misfortunes and miscalculations leads the families farther from the safety of the ship. One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone.
The disintegration of the world the families knew--told from the perspectives of both the adults and the children--is both riveting and revealing. The parents, accustomed to security and control, turn on each other and blame themselves, while the seemingly helpless children discover resources they never knew they possessed.
Do Not Become Alarmed is a story about the protective force of innocence and the limits of parental power, and an insightful look at privileged illusions of safety. Celebrated for her spare and moving fiction, Maile Meloy has written a gripping novel about how quickly what we count on can fall away, and the way a crisis shifts our perceptions of what matters most.
A family vacation gone horribly wrong
Maile Meloy specializes in writing short fiction about privileged but emotionally fragile characters who are self-aware to an almost destructive degree, and who can be startled by their own dark thoughts. Meloy delves deeply and expertly into these personalities, plumbing the repercussions of various events in their worlds. In her new novel, she takes that approach and revs it up to top speed.
Do Not Become Alarmed starts as two cousins and their families are setting out on a cruise to South America. At first everything is pleasantly relaxing, but things quickly begin to go wrong. Persuaded to take a day off the ship, the two families are divided: The men go golfing, while the women take their kids on a zip-line tour. Almost immediately, complications arise for the zip-lining crew. Their vehicle breaks down, and when they go for a swim at a nearby beach, the kids disappear. It’s any parent’s worst nightmare: You’ve lost your kids, and it’s your fault.
The book moves at a rapid-fire pace through the events that follow, as the kids get into deeper and deeper trouble and their parents become ever more distraught. The story is told from as many viewpoints as there are characters, and everyone gets at least one chapter. Meloy skillfully analyzes each person’s reaction to his or her situation in remarkably efficient prose that never scrimps on detail or emotional impact. It’s a grim story told with a light touch, and it’s completely addictive.