When Burns arrives with his cameras and lights, Kelly is more than willing to help while Frank is suspicious of the crew's intentions. Problems arise when the crew arrives at Kelly and Frank's only to find that they lost their film somewhere along the way. One of Burns' crew members breaks off from the group to go find the footage only to discover that the country is riddled with much more violence than anyone thought. It is not long before Burns and his remaining crew members find themselves at odds with the people and the unforgiving jungle. Suddenly, what began as a five-day film shoot for a documentary becomes a fight for their lives.
Overall the writing and plot development is excellent here, with interesting beginnings to each chapter formed by a sketch of an herb, its name, and its healing power. I also loved Petrick's description of the jungle and overall landscape. It felt as if it was its own character that had a back story, feelings, desires, and complicated relationships. There are few novels that I have read that have made me feel so connected to the jungle. Finally, I thought that Petrick did a very good job in establishing these characters. – here, Petrick has SEVEN main characters all of whom were well-crafted and distinct from each other.
Though I thought that Petrick did a very good job, I did have some concerns about the novel. At times, I felt as if the book was pulling me in too many directions. In one chapter, I would be introduced to a possible love triangle between Burns, Frank, and Kelly only to be thrown into a violent confrontation between a boy soldier and one of Burns' crew members. When I had come to grips with that situation, I would be hurled into the mind of the Maya healer and his loneliness only to be shot into Burns' struggle with commitment to his current girlfriend. Each of these stories were interesting, but at times they were a distraction and I completed the book without really knowing what the purpose was. Sometimes it seems like a book about the hardships of producing a film, only to shift and be about the atrocities of war or how a marriage can change over a period of time without anyone noticing.
Yet, my major concern was over the ending of the novel and the fact that it didn't have one. All of these great plot points keep barrelling at the reader only to have the novel just stop without truly ending. The book literally stops mid-sentence in a key scene – obviously intentional it was a bit baffling nevertheless. Perhaps it was Petrick’s intention to demonstrate how – unlike movies, documentaries and indeed books – the narrative of life’s complexities cannot be neatly tied up into a neat beginning, middle and end. I’m not sure. Either way I’m unconvinced that Petrick pulls this off at the conclusion. Either way, however, a recommended read. Next stop – Mexico; from the verdant jungle of Belize to the urban jungle of Mexico City with ‘Mexico City Noir’…