The lower river

Paul Theroux

Book - 2012

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Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012.
Main Author
Paul Theroux (-)
Physical Description
323 p. ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

THE central character in Paul Theroux's latest novel, "The Lower River," is an American named Ellis Hock who decides to return to Africa after an absence of almost 40 years. Life in his own country has become tiresome and frustrating, but there's a village in Malawi where, during his Peace Corps days, Hock had once been happy and useful. He wants to be useful again. So he prepares to say goodbye to his failing men's wear store in Medford, Mass., along with his embittered ex-wife and his grasping, heartless daughter. Before Hock has even left the United States, he hears about a woman in a nearby town who takes her rock python to bed with her. This python has been behaving oddly, flattening itself beside its owner, stretching the length of her sleeping body. Hock knows what's going on: the snake is getting ready to eat her. What he doesn't know is that this is a portent of what will happen to him: he's about to be consumed by the people in the village he once loved. Ellis Hock isn't the first hopeful literary traveler to find himself in this sort of predicament Near the end of Evelyn Waugh's "Handful of Dust," a hapless Englishman named Tony Last is trapped in the Amazon jungle with an old man who makes him read aloud from the works of Dickens. When a rescue party comes through, Last is unconscious in his hut and the old man says nothing about him, allowing the rescuers to move on empty-handed. Theroux's protagonist suffers a similar fate, but it's not the foibles of a callous madman that threaten to destroy him, it's his misconceptions about an entire continent It's Africa, a word he himself calls "grand and meaningless," just a "code word for the Lower River," the fondly remembered region that has seemed his last refuge. Paul Theroux has traveled widely in Africa. An intrepid wanderer (and himself a former Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi), he's written vivid accounts of his journeys there, and also in Central and South America, the Mediterranean, India, China, even the seacoast of Britain. And he has written what is reckoned by some to be the finest account of a writer by another writer, "Sir Vidia's Shadow," which tells of his long friendship with V.S. Naipaul and its dramatic rupture in 1996. (A year ago, the two men shook hands, and a celebrated literary feud was ended.) Then there's Theroux's very considerable body of fiction. Over the course of a long and productive career, he has set his stories in many and various locations, never losing a travel writer's eye for the hard, clear, material detail of the world around him. "The Lower River" is no exception. Once Ellis Hock reaches Africa, the narrative is saturated with sights, sounds and smells. Arriving in Blantyre, a city in southern Malawi, Hock experiences "the peculiar hum of scorched eucalyptus, the dustiness of dead leaves, the fields chopped apart by rusty mattocks to release the sharpness of bruised roots and red earth, all of it stinking with ripeness and decay." He arranges to travel to his old village, Malabo, and meet the headman, Festus Manyenga. Hock finds he's still remembered in these parts - he's the mzungu, the white man, who taught at the school. En route to Malabo, he pays for the paraffin required by a group of villagers to burn a dead crocodile. It's not the last thing he'll be required to pay for. And there are snakes in this compromised paradise: "It was an oiliness, a hanging odor of a decaying nest, the hot eggy stink. ... A blacklipped mamba. He prodded it, let it whip and coil." Hock soon discovers that there's nothing for him to do in Malabo. The school is in ruins, and there's no hope of rebuilding it He begins to feel invisible, superfluous. However, the local people want him to stay. A first faint whisper of disquiet is heard. If he takes a step outside his hut, the whole village is aware of it He can't simply walk back to Blantyre, the distance is too great The only transport is a motorbike, but it belongs to Festus Manyenga. Hock visits a woman he knew well during his Peace Corps days. "They will eat your money," she tells him. "When your money is gone, they will eat you." It's here, almost halfway through the novel, that an adroit switch in tempo and perspective occurs. The plot quickens, and a wider thematic context comes into view. In an attempt to escape, Hock appropriates Manyenga's motorbike, reaches the Lower River, descends it in a canoe and fetches up at a village filled with children. It's a nightmare, "a vision of pure menace, stupid unreasonable children, and too many of them, . . . feral and damned." Some are infected with AIDS. "If they bite you," he is informed, "you will die." Having escaped captivity in a small dusty village, he has found himself in a much worse prison - a foul and chaotic place run by sick, irrational children. Eventually, Hock succeeds in reaching the compound of a group called L'Agence Anonyme, to which veiled reference has earlier been made. This antiseptic fortress in the "charity zone" might well be Theroux's heart of darkness, the site of an organization to which the West has outsourced an aid effort that, for all its helicopter food drops and rock-star concerts, has failed: "You insult us with food, you throw it to us like animals. We are not your monkeys now." The Africa Hock remembers from his youth has disappeared, replaced by a corrupt and hellish place where tough young Africans speak a version of American street patois and think of nothing but the exchange value of watches and motorbikes - and human beings. Ellis Hock is now a man with a price on his head. "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 the paternalism of Hock's Peace Corps nostalgia, his "sense of responsibility, almost the 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." 'They will eat your money,' Theroux's hero is told. 'When your money is gone, they will eat you.' Patrick McGrath's new novel, "Constance," will be published next spring.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [May 13, 2012]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Ellis Hock runs a men's clothing store in Massachusetts. A dutiful husband, father, and boss, he's spent his life going through the motions. The only time he felt truly alive was as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi. When his marriage and the store both fail, Hock returns to the small village of Malabo on the Lower River with a bag of cash and the hope of starting again. But he finds the villagers don't want to rebuild the schoolhouse, they want his money. Caught between their need and his naivete, Hock soon finds himself trapped in a slow-moving nightmare. There is striking resonance here with Dark Star Safari (2003), in which Theroux recounts his own return to Africa (he taught in Malawi in the 1960s) and his discovery that, despite decades of well-intentioned foreign aid, most countries are even poorer than before. In this hypnotically compelling fiction, he wrestles with questions of good intentions and harsh reality, addressing what may be the central conundrum of Africa: our own influence is the very thing that makes it impossible for us to save it. And what does saving it mean, anyway? A gripping and vital novel that reads like Conrad or Greene in short, a classic. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Publisher plans for considerable publicity to accompany the release of Theroux's new book reflect his status as a major international writer.--Graff, Keir Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

The devastating results of the handout vs. hand-up mentality are on full display in this dark novel of contrasts from Theroux, renowned for the breadth of his work (Dark Star Safari; The Mosquito Coast). Ellis Hock's wife has cut him loose, the family clothing store is obsolete, and his daughter only wants her inheritance. What keeps the 62-year-old sane are his memories of 40 years ago when he taught school in Malawi. A return to Africa might rekindle Ellis's youthful idealism, but the atmosphere is menacing from the moment he arrives; smiling faces hide smoldering resentment, the school he helped build is a shambles, the people are emaciated and guarded. Provided with a hut, Ellis metes out money, bribes for necessities, until solitude and malaria strip him of the strength to fight what feels more like imprisonment than hospitality. Escape is thwarted by a sinister food purveyor and a disturbing encounter with a village of AIDS-ravaged orphans reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 11/7/11.]-Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib., Ft. Myers, FL (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

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. ]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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. Excerpted from The Lower River by Paul Theroux All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.