Reviews for Missile Paradise

by Ron Tanner

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Tanner's high-adrenaline, piquantly funny, bad-to-worse novel is set in the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. detonated 67 nuclear bombs between 1946 and 1958, subjecting the Marshallese to the unending consequences of nuclear fallout. It's 2004 at the start of this tale of cultural dissonance, hubris, anger, loss, and resiliency, and Cooper, a talented video-game programmer, is about to join a missile-defense group on the island of Kwajalein, a military stronghold on which Marshallese are not allowed after dark. But he has a freak accident after sailing alone across the Pacific from California, following a rift with his fiancée, and begins his stay on Kwajalein in rehab after losing a leg. A bizarre diving mishap has left Alison widowed with two young sons. Jeton, an impulsive Marshallese teenager jilted by his American girlfriend, propels himself into deep trouble. And Art, the flinty cultural liaison, fights discrimination against the Marshellese. In this poisoned island paradise besieged by poverty, disease, and rising sea levels precipitated by global warming, each irresistibly self-embattled character makes grievous mistakes, suffers from regret, and plunges into disaster. Tanner (From Animal House to Our House, 2012), who lived in the Marshall Islands and launched the Marshall Islands Story Project, brings this microcosm of human folly and valor to captivating realization with bracing insights, tangy humor, profound respect, and rebounding resonance.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2016 Booklist

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific provides the backdrop for Tanner's (From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story, 2012, etc.) comic exploration of expatriate life and its consequences. In the 1950s, the U.S. used the Marshall Islands as a test site for nuclear bombs. Fifty years later, the Americans in Tanner's breezy tale are more self-destructive than anything, though their imprint on the island nation is hardly a net positive. For better or worse, they stick mostly to American-dominated Kwajalein, which "looks like a 1950s cinderblock beach town gone to seed" and houses the U.S. personnel who study missile defense at the nearby Ronald Reagan Test Site. Among the employees there is Cooper, who sails all the way from California for his new job but manages to lose a leg in the process. Alison, the art teacher at the Kwajalein high school, isn't much better off: she's coping with her husband's recent drowning, mostly by drinking her way through lunch. Then there's Art, a bedraggled former Peace Corps volunteer who married a native and now serves as "Cultural Liaison" to the expat community, explaining Marshallese customs while lobbing rhetorical grenades at American culture from afar. Meanwhile, the only Marshallese protagonist, Jeton, pines for his American girlfriend, Nora, who's preparing to return to the U.S. for college. Marshallese are banned from Kwajalein after nightfall, and Jeton's attempt to see Nora before she goes proves a crucial turning point in the plot. The themes here are majorglobal warming, imperialism, America's role in the world (the story is set soon after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal). But Tanner displays a light touch, favoring snappy dialogue over didacticism. The result is winning, though for some the novel may feel just a touch too lighthearted: at various points characters confront everything from alcoholism to catastrophic weather to sharks, but one gets the sense early on that, for the four major players, all will (mostly) work out in the end. A literary beach read that will keep you thinking after the vacation's over. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal
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Novelist, short story writer, and political activist Tanner has had a long personal engagement with the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, and his excellent new novel tells the history of these islands since World War II through the eyes of a diverse set of colorful and convincing characters. The novel is set in 2004 and, tellingly, follows the same narrative arc as Robinson Crusoe. Cooper, the novel's protagonist, is a young American programmer living in Palo Alto, CA, who has just been hired by a defense contractor located in the Marshall Islands. He will be designing software for America's missile defense system. A new romantic relationship in tatters, Cooper recklessly decides to sail solo across the Pacific in his small boat. He washes up on a small island in the Marshalls-lucky to be alive though seriously injured. The bulk of the novel is devoted to Cooper's-and the reader's-gradual introduction to indigenous culture and the Marshallese people, who have been systematically impoverished and essentially enslaved on their own land, sweeping the streets and cleaning the houses for American military personnel. Verdict A fascinating read; recommended for readers interested in political fiction and social justice.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.