On page 207 of Pearl Lagoon, the narrator laments: “I still question my decision that night [but] I then find myself backing up that key event further and further [and] it seemed I could have kept backing up that point of departure indefinitely.” This gives the impression that the storytelling in this novel is akin to knocking down a row of dominoes, one event leading to another. Instead, the game is more like 52-pick-up.
So many explanations of the struggle for independence in 1920’s Nicaragua are contained within flashbacks and reminiscences and outright digressions, one within another, sometimes two, that it takes over half the book before a storyline emerges. When it does, it is given in a scene told from a different point of view altogether before the narrator, Cordell Fletcher, resumes his first-person account. As a consular officer, he is one of two American officials sent upcountry to investigate two murders. He finds that their presence not only accelerates local passions, political and otherwise, but leads to further deaths. How much blame should they as Americans, and himself as a passive observer, assume for the events? The reader decides.