Where Earth Meets Water
The demarcation between earth and water is but just an instant, a moment in time: the ocean tides pushing and pulling over countless grains of sand, an avalanche cascading down a mountain, a torrential downpour onto a parched field of crops. Each entity is both independent from and beholden to the other for survival. And each is affected by the other’s behavior.
Hokey metaphor (on behalf of this reviewer) aside, the characters in Pia Padukone’s debut novel, WHERE EARTH MEETS WATER, all exist in this nebulous space --- at once nurturing, but with the potential to destroy. And they do so with varying degrees of success.
There’s Karom, the heart of the book, whose guilt prevents him from leaving his past behind. He was playing hooky the morning of September 11, 2001, when his class visited the World Trade Center. Three years later, as a tsunami wiped out his family on the Indian coast, he was studying for finals in his college dorm room. Though Karom is lucky to be alive --- especially now that he’s found a supportive and loving woman named Gita to share his life with --- he can’t shake the sense that his time should’ve been up. But why wasn’t it? Why isn’t it?
"Padukone’s vignettes --- set both in an India defined by its 'mustiness of cardamom and mustard and mothballs' and the gritty streets of a post-9/11 New York --- are imbued with vivid detail. So, too, her characters are anything but bland or passive."
Karom’s best friend and old college roommate, Lloyd, is suffering from a different sort of ailment: unrequited love. Despite his engagement and looming nuptials to a woman he adores, his complicated attraction to Karom keeps getting in the way. “It balls up in his chest like a knotted clutch of yarn, tangled among his inner organs,” and no amount of soul searching and surface remedies --- discarding the sweat-soaked t-shirt of Karom’s he’s kept for years, embarking on a solo bachelor party in the woods --- can rid him of the feeling that the person he truly loves might also be his undoing.
And then there’s Kamini, Gita’s stalwart grandmother in India --- a woman who has lived alone for nearly 50 years after her philandering, alcoholic husband walked out on her and their daughter. While she managed to scrape by writing bestselling stories for children under an assumed name, Kamini’s life has never been easy. Maybe her emphasis on staying strong and stoic prevented her from experiencing the joy she so needed. Would she ever get that chance again?
WHERE EARTH MEETS WATER is a mishmash of these characters’ disparate journeys. Riddled with flashbacks and told from six different perspectives --- that of each character mentioned above, along with Gita’s and Karom’s parents --- the Big Picture often falls short of cohesive. Some chapters, like the one devoted to Gita’s interior design business and a visit to a psychologist to fret over her relationship with Karom, add little insight to the overall story. Others, like the refreshingly intimate and touching chapter written as a joint letter from Karom’s parents to their son detailing news of his adoption, beg to be explored more deeply.
But Padukone’s vignettes --- set both in an India defined by its “mustiness of cardamom and mustard and mothballs” and the gritty streets of a post-9/11 New York --- are imbued with vivid detail. So, too, her characters are anything but bland or passive. Sure, they act selfish or rash and make frustrating mistakes. But, more importantly, they fight for what they want, what they need --- committed love, protection, acceptance. And, for the most part --- like we all hope to --- they achieve it.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on May 2, 2014
Where Earth Meets Water
- Publication Date: April 29, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
- ISBN-10: 0778315975
- ISBN-13: 9780778315971