There are so many sides of a person, jagged edges like puzzle pieces; you never know when you’ll snap together with someone else. But Margaret and I, we fit. “You’re so good to me, Cass,” she said, grinning. And now I am here, in her apartment, alone, no clue where Margaret is, suddenly feeling like she is an utter stranger. How have we gone from that day to this one?
Transporting readers into the lives of two expatriate families living Jordan, The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon, is a steady suspense that examines the decorum of two women who contrast one another in all aspects except for their forced occupation of this conservative and exceedingly unfamiliar locale. This important convergence serves as the seed of a blossoming friendship though not without some dissension.
When Cassie’s husband Dave agrees to serve as the host family to the newly arrived Margaret and her husband Crick and young son Mather, Cassie feels both loathing for Margret’s ability to have children, something she is struggling with herself, and a sense of duty to orient Margaret in the etiquette of American women in Jordan.
I told myself that Margaret was ignorant of all of these rules, but she’d learn them the way we all do, over time, and of course with my help. I would guide her. Obviously I had a lot of work to do. I hadn’t yet realized Margaret would cling to her ignorance. Delight in it. I hadn’t realized that handshake was just the beginning of things to come.
Margaret has a decidedly different idea of what behavior is deemed acceptable. She is full of life and confidence and determined to live her experience in Jordan to the fullest. Having spent much of her time before meeting Crick caring for her mother who was slowly dying from Lupus, Margaret feels compelled to make up for lost time. On the other hand, Cassie is the picture of poise and restraint which borders on aloofness and trepidation and prevents her from experiencing much of what Jordan has to offer. Cassie and Margaret clash over their opposing views, driving each of them to dig in their heels even further.
Margaret doesn’t recognize that the line between us and them is real. She’s infected with our great American hubris of assuming that deep down every single person wants the same thing: autonomy, freedom, democracy, independence. I try to tell Margaret things here are different, that our American tolerance, even veneration, of the rule-breaker is not shared in a place where the literal translation of the name of the faith, Islam, means “submission.” But the longer Margaret has lived here, the less willing she has been to submit to anything.
Following a small fender-bender, Margaret is called to the police station to pay the fine. She leaves Cassie to watch Mather promising to return soon. When minutes melt into hours, Cassie begins to worry that Margaret has gotten herself into trouble with her lack of veneration for Jordanian social norms and her casual ideas toward the culture. Snooping around the house to stave off boredom, Cassie crosses a definite line by reading Margaret’s journal and what she discovers about her friend sends her reeling.
I MUST FIND HIM. I MUST MAKE IT RIGHT.
Cassie continues to read, peeking behind the curtain and into the secluded parts of her friend’s life. A strained marriage and half-truths barely scratch the surface. When she begins to see the possible evidence to Margaret’s complicated friendship with a local man, Cassie begins to wonder if she is jumping to conclusions or if Margaret has fallen into a precarious position birthed from her acute naivete.
Well-paced with a unique perspective and a devastating ending, The Confusion of Languages is a gripping story of female friendship as it is defined and molded by the demands of military spouses surviving in a foreign land.
There was every reason to think she was in trouble. There certainly was.
A review copy of this title was provided by G. P. Putnam Sons and Netgalley