Standing Stones

by John Metcalf
ISBN: 0887621449

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A Review of: Mackerel Sky
by Des McNally

If you wish to read a ho-hum type of book requiring little thought, then do not open Natalee Caple's second novel Mackerel Sky. There is nothing ordinary about this intense yet touching story featuring four main characters Martine, Isabelle, Guy and Harry.
At seventeen Guy is seduced by twenty-six-year-old Martine, whose ensuing pregnancy causes Guy to run away and eventually end up in Boston.
The novel begins with Guy returning twenty years later to meet his daughter, Isabelle, for the first time. Strangely, Caple turns this into an unremarkable event. Guy is seemingly unexcited by the occasion and Isabelle is portrayed as a curious but mischievous young woman who is already very comfortable with herself.
Guy soon finds himself falling in love again with Martine even though she already has Harry, her young lover, living in her home. Both men are depicted as being dependent on Martine, a powerful presence, whose appetite for sex is voracious. Unfortunately for her partners they often end up injured in some way, as her tastes are far removed from the normal-climbing a tree is a different kind of adventure for Martine.
It's during Guy's convalescence, after an ambitious erotic romp with Martine, that he discovers that the other three are running a counterfeiting operation that produces fake American currency. This illegal activity plus Guy's competitive presence and Martine's predilection for self-inflicted injuries brings about serious challenges for the foursome. Despite her tendency to manic depression, Martine is clearly the leader of this band of characters. Vivacious, intelligent and opinionated, but suffering emotionally, she remarks with self-knowing, "Home is where you get your heart broken."
Guy suffers from low self-esteem and Harry and Isabelle have problems of their own. Nevertheless, Caple's writing is witty and empathetic. At times her description of events, though often laced with violence, make our aspiring counterfeiters sound like "the gang who couldn't shoot straight."
Throughout Caple's narrative we are moved by the loyalty and closeness of this unusual group. At times they're so inept, daffy even, that we cannot but hope for their success, especially when their operation hits a serious snag and they come face to face with the true underworld. I completed Mackerel Sky with a feeling of sadness for this small, courageous group, who, despite being criminals with unconventional morals and relationships, have managed to attain a liberated kind of existence that they have accepted without feelings of self-pity.
Caple is described as "an emerging talent" whose first novel The Plight of Happy People in an Ordinary World was received most enthusiastically. The latest effort has done nothing to harm the reputation of this entertaining storyteller.

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