When Greg Lockland returns to California for his parents' funeral, he discovers letters that suggest an affair between his ex-lover and late father. Suspicion, anger and jealousy takes him on a transpacific journey to find the truth. Uncovering deep-rooted deceptions creates more twists and turns to the past than an old Chinese alleyway.
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The Pacific Between
Betrayal makes us do strange things.
By now I’ve driven over two hours from Los Angeles and another thirty minutes around the block trying to find 1935 Roselyn Drive. It’s already after ten in the evening, and I’m speeding. I circle around, then back, again and again, making the same wrong turns, up the same one-way streets. Finally I find it. The apartment complex, hidden in the hills and behind two rows of palm trees, is rather small and old for San Marcos, a quiet middle-class neighborhood just outside San Diego. I park the car and grab the cardboard box on the passenger seat, then trudge through the hallways, looking for apartment 206.
Kate’s eyes shine like emeralds in the faint light when she opens her door. I let out a sigh and outstretch my arm, demanding a hug.
“Greg, what are you doing here?” she asks.
I take a step back, surprised by how distant she sounds.“Are you going to invite me in?”
“Of course!” She ushers me into her place and closes the door behind us. “Please don’t mind the mess. I’m preparing for a case. Can I get you something? Tea? Coke?”
“That’d be great,” I say.
“Uh, tea. Yeah, tea.”
She hurries into the kitchen, and I drop myself onto the sleek blue-green sofa in the living room, next to a small rectangular fish tank—a cobalt betta swims by, lazy and oblivious.Kate has a typical one-bedroom apartment, cozy for a single woman. Heaps of papers stack high on the round dining table across from where I’m sitting. An empty Chinese takeout box sits on the coffee table, a fork abandoned in it. On top of one of the piles of legal papers and books lies her security badge: KATE WALKEN, ESQ. On the off-white wall behind the sofa hangs a poster the size of a large window—a striking montage of the 2001 Special Olympic hopefuls, vigorous and vibrant. Knickknacks of all sorts all over the place: an “I Heart New York” snow globe, a Shrek bobblehead, three wooden ducks, a fluffy stuffed piranha. The apartment reminds me of how young, at twenty-six, she really is.
Sarah McLachlan’s breathy voice seeps through the bedroom door. Angel. I lie there, motionless and silent, and let her every note and word speak to me about love, sorrow, and pain.
“I hope you like this. It’s all I have right now,” Kate says as she comes out of the kitchen with a steaming cup of tea.
“You have a nice place,” I say, taking the cup. The fragrance of jasmine surprises me. Lian used to drink jasmine. I nurse the cup and sip my tea, like a little boy stuck at a grown-up party.
“Greg, is everything okay?” She sits next to me.
“I’ve missed you.”
She touches the back of her ear and lowers her head. “Why didn’t you just call?”
“I did. But I didn’t leave a message. I had to see you,” I say. “I asked Emily for your address, and she wondered why I wanted it.”
“Um, what did you tell her?”
“Nothing. Just that I wanted to send you a thank you card or something. For coming to the funeral, spending the weekend with me. For being so kind.” I smile. “Sharing a joint with me at Griffith Park, et cetera.”
She laughs. “Oh Greg. She’ll figure us out. My mom’s not dumb.”
“I didn’t think she was,” I say. “But, why didn’t you say goodbye when you left?”
“I didn’t want to wake you,” she protests. “It’s a work day for the rest of us, you know.”
“Not trying to run away, are you?”
She hesitates. “Like you?”
I glance at her sideways.
Her short brown hair and freckled face still remind me of the Brentwood High sophomore I first met when I was home for the holidays from UC Berkeley. A spontaneous trip to Griffith Park, where we shared a joint in my red Mustang, secured our bond. Our parents were good friends, but Kate and I became even better friends. A year later, her father died of prostate cancer, and she seemed to have changed. As I ran off to Wharton for my MBA, I told her I would write. I kept my promise. But in every letter, she wrote about her fights with her mother, how she hated her whole life, how she wished she were there with me in Philadelphia. After a while, I started to forget to write back. I wanted to forget about my life in California—I was running off to build my own world, my own sanctuary—and I wanted to forget about this little girl who seemed only half my age. I didn’t want to baby-sit anymore.
Now that, after almost ten years, our friendship has taken an unexpected, romantic turn, I wonder if she’s actually forgiven me. Probably not.
Guilt colors everything.
“I don’t know.” I look down and hold the cup closer to my face.
“Greg.” Her voice turns soft. “Everything is fine. Is everything okay with you?”
I turn the cup and watch the amber liquid trembling between my palms. “After you left, I went to the attorney, about the will. Then I took the keys to Wells Fargo.” I let out a slight breath. “And I found these.”
It's time to tell the lawyer the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. She listens intently, her expression impossible to read. The rabbit slumps in the crook of her arm, relaxed and entranced. I lean over. She's so close I can almost touch her. But I know not to come any closer.
Next to that is a high-contrast portrait of an old, diminutive Chinese lady, sitting on a foot-high three-legged stool in a small stone-paved alley, her face dry like a shriveled prune, laden with deep, crisscrossed lines of life's rich tales. Her eyes droop with sadness, as if she has been waiting for something or someone for most of her life. She's still waiting.
Something chirps in the tree. I walk toward it and look up. A cardinal roosts on a fat branch, praising the day. I pick up a camphor seed and place it under my nose -- its raw scent tells of a lost summer, rich and full.
The place is so packed and choked with smoke that there's no sanctuary even in this little corner. Fat asses bump into me as they grind through the narrow passage into the dark recess in the back. Some drunk babbles at me -- government conspiracy, lost fingers to a loan shark, some stupid shit. I just look up at the pipes on the ceiling and wish for death.
Fifteen. I was that age when I had my first kiss behind a rock at Stanley Beach. Her name was May. Or was it April? The kiss was urgent and wet -- I had no idea a good Catholic girl could kiss like that, her tongue wrestling mine. It was also the first time I kissed a girl's breasts. Hers were small but soft, fragrant like strawberry ice cream...
It used to be the much more obscure but busier entrance to the ER, where I more than once saw a pandemonium unfold -- fire engines, ambulances, and a cast of hundreds. Now it's hushed, like a midnight showing of Ishtar on Super Bowl Sunday.
Time seems to slow down on this jagged bump of an island and fishing village southwest of Hong Kong. A mosaic of at least three hundred boats and junks, large and small -- their long masts and ragged, batten sails wavering about -- drifts in the sheltered harbor. The breeze is damp with the smell of salt and fish.
She was sixteen, a fine blossom with short black hair and glasses, smitten with a fourteen-year-old Eurasian boy who spoke little Chinese but knew a thing or two about slow dancing. There were chocolate ice cream and lemon cakes. Paper stars and moons on the ceiling. Elvis Presley.
I don't remember her name.
A Dramatic Ride
January Magazine (www.januarymagazine.com)
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 to 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.
Dynamic Debut Novel
Review by Joanne D. Kiggins
The Pacific Between
By Raymond K. Wong
Raymond K. Wong's debut novel, The Pacific Between, chronicles an Asian-American man's attempt to discover himself and the world around him.
The ups, downs, twists, and turns of a two-minute roller coaster ride are nothing compared to the gamut of emotions Wong's characters experience in his compelling novel.
The opening line, "Betrayal makes us do strange things," leads you head-on into a boiling pot of love, death, betrayal, and deception.
When entrepreneur Greg Lockland arrives in California to attend his parents' funeral, his world begins to unravel. Pictures of a brother he barely remembers and letters discovered hidden in his father's safe deposit box suggest an illicit affair between his late father and Greg's ex-lover Lian Wan.
Confused and angry, Greg visits Kate Walken, a young woman with whom his relationship has taken an unexpected, romantic turn. Greg hates secrets and the hurt they cause. Yet, he tells Kate only of the pictures he found. Greg battles with his mixed emotions and can't bring himself to tell her about Lian. Does he still love Lian? Does he love Kate? Can he love Kate?
Greg is like a boy who never grew up. He'll stop at nothing to get what he wants. Though he can be affectionate, he can be obnoxious, deceiving, and secretive-- all the things he loathes.
Seething anger, growing suspicion, and inescapable jealousy accompany Greg on a transpacific journey to Hong Kong in search of Lian and the truth about the affair.
Greg has no idea he's about to unlock a secret that has been kept closeted for years. One after another, people return from his past, each adding another roadblock to Greg's mysterious puzzle. With each piece of information, Greg is forced to re-examine his beliefs, feelings, and relationships with old friends and family.
Among those who help Greg is Agnes, the director of nursing where his father had worked. She is a bossy, mannish, British nurse whom Greg never liked. During his relentless search to uncover the truth, Greg is surprised to find Agnes with his happy-go-lucky friend Old Chow and realizes Agnes has a passionate side. Agnes and Old Chow prod Greg to explore his feelings and their secret plans push him into another situation of doubt.
There is more to Wong's astonishing novel The Pacific Between than a gripping plot. Each chapter opens a part of Greg's life. The witty dialogue is smooth and believable and portrays the dynamic and fascinating characters, keeping them and the reader in suspense and a whirlwind of emotions.
Greg's elusive and perfect ex-love Lian adds to his anger, jealousy, and confusion when she avoids him and refuses to discuss the letters. Just when Greg thinks he has all the answers he uncovers more questions and finds more deep-rooted deception.
Wong's story reaches into the heart, mind, and soul of readers with a robust Asian voice. His story melds two cultures so eloquently that he has you walking beside his characters and places you in the center of Hong Kong's beautiful culture and picturesque landscape. Those who aren't familiar with Hong Kong will dream of visiting, and those familiar will see their surroundings in a new light after Wong writes,
"The ferry sounds its long horn, edging its way toward the island. Piers, docks and row houses pack tightly together in a stretch along the shore. Twirls of smoke ascend from a temple at the far end of the village. On the near side of the island, the rocky hills give rise to a green plateau on which tiers of red-roof condominiums and houses spread out like icing on a cake. (74)"
The Pacific Between is more than a story of love, death, and betrayal. It's a superb tale of deception, relationships, sacrifices, and unconditional love. It is filled with nostalgia, wit, humor, and triumph. This book is not a casual read. The plot leaves the reader waiting to turn the pages. It's unpredictable to the end.
Wong will leave you laughing one minute and crying the next, and in between, awestruck by dead-ends that lead to a satisfying finish.
The Pacific Between is a book readers will want to place on their bookshelves to be read over and over again.
Joanne Kiggins has published more than 2,500 articles. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, Absolute Write, and Moondance.
A Must-Read Book
Reviewed by Esther Avila
With the first line from the first chapter of The Pacific Between, Raymond K.Wong captured my curiosity: "Betrayal makes us do strange things." At first it was simple curiosity but it was not long before I was so enthralled by what may happen next that I found myself turning page after page, unable to put the book down.
Wong tells the story of an unmarried young man, Greg Lockland, who returns to California to bury his parents. But the sudden death of his parents leaves unanswered questions, especially after he discovers some disturbing letters and pictures in his father's safe deposit box - opening old wounds and filling him with suspicion, anger and jealousy.
Did his father have an affair with his ex-lover?
Greg embarks on a trip to find his ex and thus begins his journey across the Pacific. But Greg's investigation not only brings people from his past back into his life - but also brings more questions, more heartache and more deception.
Every time I thought I figured out what was happening, Wong added a twist or a turn of events, making it impossible for me to put the book down. The story is full of surprises.
If you've never been to Hong Kong - Wong will take you there. His writing brings the city, villages, shores and characters to life - enabling the reader to not only see what he is talking about but hear, smell and feel it as well.
Wittingly written in the first few chapters as parallel stories - his past and his present - it is not long before Wong combines the two, bringing the reader into the present as the main character, Greg, struggles with the puzzle that has been set before him. The Pacific Between is a beautiful and touching debut novel by Raymond K. Wong, which I highly recommend. It is the kind of story that I can imagine being made into a movie some day.
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