The novels of Edith Parzefall are fun, clever, and deeply affecting. At first glance an adventure story, no, wait, a romance!–no, no, a thriller!–Parzefall’s writing leads seamlessly into tragedy and finally, out of pain and into healing. If that isn’t enough, her novels also take the reader on vacation to distant lands and foreign cultures (in STRAYS OF RIO, we tour the slums of Rio and scenic parts of Brazil). All this international travel and genre-hopping might sound daunting, but Parzefall is such a master of character development, readers will go anywhere, get into a car with a stranger, even into bed with a stranger, because we completely enter into a fictional world that rings with authenticity.
We’ve all seen nice guys passed up while bad boys get the girl. We all know the smart career woman who has everything going for except a satisfying, lasting personal relationship. She’s adventurous and independent yet ultimately alone. Two clinical psychologists tried to explain this conundrum in their 1986 best seller “Smart Women/Foolish Choices: Finding the Right Men Avoiding the Wrong Ones.” They even suggested ways for women to “change their love-defeating attitudes” and learn to embrace “opportunities for romantic happiness.” I haven’t read that book, but I’m pretty sure these ways didn’t include sending the woman on a wilderness vacation, alone, in a remote and unforgiving place like the Atacama desert in Chile’s Antofagasta region. Fortunately for her readers, Edith Parzefall is a keen observer of human behavior, not a therapist, and so our heroine’s journey to “recovery” begins with a few steps back, not forward.
From the first page, we see what a mess Lara is in. There’s a man in her bed. Not just any man, but her coworker, Daniel the geek. Make that former coworker: she just got laid off, and the last thing she remembers is one scotch too many. Ooh, but her skin remembers Daniel’s body up close and personal. How could he…how could she–? He awakens, smiling, and tells Lara this is a dream come true. Horrified, she kicks him out of bed. And gets on that flight to Chile she never would have booked while sober.
Chapter Two opens with a lonely little man hauling freight on Ruta 5 through the Atacama Desert. Enrique keeps wishing he was home with his wife and sons. For some reason, he never seems to get home. Time slips into a fog. He keeps moving. Like a Chilean Don Quixote, he fights for honor and justice, especially whenever a lady is at risk. Unlike Quixote, he falls short. His escapades alternate with Lara’s, chapter by chapter, until the road brings these adventurers face to face at last.
On the way, Lara hooks up with a backpacking Australian tourist. Rick is handsome, rugged, suntanned, fun, flirty, and there for the taking, no strings attached. At first Lara has no intention of sleeping with him. She came to the desert to clear her head and wipe the slate clean, after all, not to have another fling. The Atacama landscape, though, is ravishing, with its fantastic variety of Mars-like scenery, high altitude lakes, salt flats, sand dunes, interesting rocks, geysers and volcanoes. And it’s a scary place for a woman on her own, however smart and independent she may be. Plus, there’s this chemistry between the two strangers. Sex without commitment is just the diversion Lara welcomes to keep from facing her mess of a life. BDSM too? It’s all just a game, Lara rationalizes, until it starts to hurt. By the time she resolves to send this guy packing, he’s figured out how to keep her from leaving. Like “50 Shades of Grey,” which came out two years after this novel was first written, “Crumple Zone” reveals deepening shades of sexual violence and how hard it can be to break away.
Lara will not go down in flame. She’s among the archetypal “Women Who Run With the Wolves” (title of a book by Clarissa Pinkola Estes). At some point, our Don Quixote of a trucker must slam into Lara’s life, not so much to save the damsel in distress but to open a door for her, as any gentleman would. This door leads to the light of self awareness. For both of them. The truth is painful, but only the truth will set us free.
More than a thriller, “Crumple Zone” is a romance, a journey through the desert, and a thought-provoking examination of the delusions that even the most educated people can suffer. The final pages bring Lara back from the rainless plateau to her home in Seattle, and if you want to know more than that, please buy the book. For the price of a cup of coffee, it’s an investment no one should regret.