The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty
Vendela Vida
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Buy *The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty* by Vendela Vidaonline

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty
Vendela Vida
224 pages
June 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Vida’s story of a woman on the edge is extraordinary, gifting us the inner life of her unnamed everywoman protagonist from the failure of her marriage to her life in Florida, to her multi-dimensional journey through the chaos of Casablanca, where she’s faced with some unexpected trials and adventures. We first meet her on the plane from Miami, on which the distance she's traveled has already muted the horror of the last two months. We aren’t quite sure why she’s going to Morocco, only that she’s recently decided to divorce her husband and that there’s a sense of terrible urgency about her journey.

On the plane, she spies a familiar bespectacled woman who locks eyes with her for a moment, and she wonders if she will recognize her from somewhere. Arriving in Casablanca, she experiences similarly sudden culture shock of this exotic, unique place and worries whether she has made the right decision. Amid a white sky and Casablanca’s tall, cream-colored buildings “that shoot up so suddenly,” she arrives at her hotel only to have her backpack stolen out from under her. As the realization of all its lost contents increases (her laptop, wallet with credit cards, and all her cash), she grows increasingly panicked. She’s so exhausted and frazzled that she’s no longer certain of anything: “Everyone else’s narrative seems more likely than yours.”

With her identity stolen, she attempts to get help from the hotel staff and later from the local police, but to her own detriment she’s guided through a moral morass of complications. As her sense of displacement increases, she begins to lie--first to the shady chief of police, and then to the woman who works at the American embassy emergency desk. As her behavior becomes more erratic and unpredictable, she gravitates between ragged grief and excessive paranoia.

Telling her tale in the second-person singular, Vida offers brief glimpses into her heroine’s shattered, disappointed psyche, the palimpsest of acne that has damaged her self-worth and the sense of loss she carries with her. Her memories of her life in Florida and the painstaking details of her marriage gradually fade from her thoughts as her existence in Casablanca becomes “just images on a scattered deck of cards.” Pictures are everywhere, enhanced by the various predicaments she finds herself in: first the lies, then the adoption of another girl’s identity, then as a stand-in for a famous American actress with a filthy mouth and terrible laugh. This well-behaved, demure girl has now become the blooming adventurer whose former smallness expands in the glow of a foreign land.

Both challenged and brutalized by the reality of her life as a journeyer, she jumps from one situation to the next, exhibiting the proud confidence of a traveler’s freedom. Vida’s prose is rapid-paced, reflecting the fast thoughts of this woman who has buried herself in a life of conformity in order to forget the past--disasters that she chooses to keep alive in the largest part of her mind instead of relegating them to the bank vault of forgetfulness. The past haunts her like a specter, refusing to be ignored. Only travel to an exotic place like Casablanca might jumpstart the steps towards forgetting.

When events conspire to sabotage her work as the stand-in, paranoia again washes over her, pushing her into yet another new scenario. This constant traveler’s ebb and flow leads her to step onto a tour bus then into the narrow mazes and alleyways of the small city of Meknes. As the little over two hundred pages fly by, Vida’s novel concludes with her heroine somewhat more adjusted and normalized. No longer sitting in a police station or on a film set, or so paranoid about her lost backpack, this is a woman who gradually learns to blend in while also seeing North Africa for the first time.

Awash in the rich stridency of this foreign land, she glimpses the wide fields of sunflowers, “their golden-yellow heads rising up like periscopes above an ocean of green.” Hers is an intriguing, fabulous journey as she stumbles through each phase of her timeless and intimate expedition, revealing in brief snatches so many bittersweet moments of loneliness and of love found and lost.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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