novel : Coconut Oil
author: Joe Linker
available at Amazon.com
Coconut Oil is the sequel to Joe Linker’s recent novel Penina’s Letters . I wrote a review of Penina’s Letters and , so , Joe sent me a copy of the sequel . He had to send it over to Poland , but it caught up with me here in Szczecin . The UPS guy knocked on the door and rattled off a few rushed words that I didn’t understand ; but I could see the package in his grip and he deftly put two and two together and handed over the package from America to me.
I was excited to get the new novel . Now I might find out what has happened to that young soldier -returned- from -war Salvador Persequi , and how about his love interest to whom he wrote the letters , the enigmatic Penina ? Did Sal , known to his friends as Salty , get himself together enough to get by and have a good life over the years ? Did he stay in the beach town of Refugio ? Did he stay surfing , and was he successful in staying with the girl ? How might the letter-writing passion have worked itself out ?
Coconut Oil . So , what the heck is coconut oil ? There are door-to-door salesmen who sell the stuff, it seems , at least in Refugio there are . The novel begins with a domestic dialog between Penina and Sal about the stuff . So , we know they have stayed together . You , as reader , have to hold on , right from the start as the novel , perhaps more of a long poem , takes off into the hinterland , with the first chapter : Wintertide .
In Two Crabs , the next chapter , we re-visit the casual interactions of our curious couple as they wander the beach , rent a boat , barbeque burgers , and consider grabbing a beer at Crab’s bar . Sal mentions the letter writing gig again , in passing . I found myself wondering , reading Two Crabs , if the relationship had somehow bogged down into serial crabbing with one another . Is that the hint the author intends ?
Next we learn that Puck Malone , the surf shop owner friend from Penina’s Letters , is now the mayor of Refugio . Evidently , there is a homeless problem in the town , and Puck sets up a committee to study the issue . Penina volunteers for the committee . Sal’s reaction :
This committee of Puck’s you volunteered us for . Seriously ? Jumping into that kind of noise does not sound peaceful to me .
Peace is boring , she tells him , and people need our help . She and Sal are opposites , perhaps . He says :
I accused Penina of being a mixed metaphor , while she accused me of being a rhetorical wreck.”
But , what have we learned , really , about this couple ? As the novel progresses , I wondered . How did the two of them get by over the years ? We do find out what they’ve done to make a living . Now , in Coconut Oil , they are retiring and moving back to Refugio . But , we discover that Refugio itself is suddenly deconstructed . Puck and Sal wander the inexplicably vacant area that was once the old Refugio . They discuss plans for the land , as if the whole place is owned by Puck , who we know has become inexplicably super-rich . Sal and Penina now live , at least temporarily , with Puck in Puck’s newly built super -mansion . And Puck , by the way , has re-discovered a long-shipwrecked load of coconuts , with which he plans a business selling coconut oil .
Before we get there , though , we hear from the homeless Sister Bernice , her nun’s tale , and also the Waif’s tale , and I began to wonder if I had stumbled somehow into Chaucer , having previously rambled through passages reminiscent of that Irish writer , James Joyce , or perhaps Flann O’ Brien , spiced with a sprinkle of e.e. cummings , and other embedded literati who have easily managed to escape my recognition .
So , I suppose the way I understand it is this : Sal and Penny wind up homeless , in a way , living with the rich friend , Puck , in a big but definitely un-homelike house of his , while they are engaged in trying to help a group of homeless squatters in a town which is about to be torn apart , a place where , evidently , everyone’s lives are to be disrupted ; but (never fear ! ) there are plans in the works to rebuild . Sometime . Meanwhile , there will be coconut oil available , an ocean of lotion , sold door to door .
The novel begins with a quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It . Perhaps Joe Linker has thrown us unawares into some mysterious and unique place like the Shakespearean woods of Arden , where we best , as we read , keep our wits about us , watch for and accept what comes along , and enjoy the journey .