SPIRITUAL QUEST, MAGIC realism, or whodunit? I got mixed messages from Darlene Barry Quaife's novel Days & Nights on the Amazon (Turnstone, 197 pages, $14.95 paper).
The story opens in Brazil as Acacia Aranha, a sophisticated and enigmatic plant collector, travels the Amazon by boat in search of a ghost tribe and anew plant species. In the course of her journey Acacia meditates on the power and fickleness of the river.
Acacia's destiny is to meet Libby Hall, a young Albertan whose husband has just died mysteriously while importing exotic animals. Libby is headed into the jungle to find the man she believes is responsible for the death.
Quaife's depiction of life on the Amazon is sensuous, but very slow-moving. The creaky pace is worsened by the inclusion of secondary characters who drift past like flotsam and jetsam. The real dynamics are among Acacia, Libby, and the river itself. Most of the other people -- an annoying river rat named Chico Rei, a quartet of earnest American college students -- have little impact on the story.
The leisurely trip halts abruptly with a boating accident, followed by a jumble of activity: an encounter with a Brazilian witch, a battle of magic, and a hasty conclusion. Has it all been a shared mirage?
Although there are moments when magic realism gives this book some shimmer, boredom overtook me long before the end. That old lady river, she just keeps rolling, and rolling, and rolling along.