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.