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Ever have that experience where you decide to splurge on a fancy restaurant, expect to have a gourmet meal, but end up walking away unfulfilled? For me, reading Lou Aronica’s and Julian Iragorri’s newest collaboration Differential Equations was akin to an unfulfilled meal. The premise of the novel is of four different lives, in four different timelines, that intersect in a unique and magical way. The novel is billed as magical realism, Aronica’s inspiration being the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As a lover of magical realism and Mr. Marquez, I was excited to read this book. The premise was interesting to me and I looked forward to learning how these four different people were going to interact. Ultimately, the promise of the novel was met, yet I was left restless. I could neither rave nor rage against the book. I was ambivalent. If you were to ask me what I thought of the book, I would merely shrug my shoulders.
Despite the unfulfilled feeling, there was some yummy goodness to the book. Aronica’s strengths are the four characters themselves. The novel is told from the perspective of the four characters, each with their own distinctive voice. The novel begins with Alex Soberano, a high powered executive living in modern day New York City, in need of a mental health break. The novel shifts three more times between a mystical woman called Vidente, who lives in a fictional South American village in 1928; a immigrant to another South American village named Khalid who left Bethlehem in 1920; and a young determined college student named Dro attending MIT in the mid 1980’s. While Alex is clearly the main protagonist of the novel, as the other 3 characters are connected to him, my favorite was Khalid. Vidente, Dro and Alex all have a bit of “magic” in them, with Khalid being the odd man out. I think the decision to make one of the characters witnessing the “magic” was a wise one. For the other three the “magic” is part of their being, but for Khalid, he has to learn to accept it. Khalid stands in for the reader who must learn how to believe in the power and accept it into his life. It is due to this learning curve that I feel Khalid has the most growth. He starts out as a man who is mourning the death of his family, only to have his mind challenged and changed through an interesting twist.
While I enjoyed spending time with each of the four characters, I enjoyed my time with Khalid the most. While Aronica’s strengths are the wonderful characters he developed, it also is a weakness in the story. Differential Equations is essentially a very good character study. With the exception of Alex’s storyline, we learn these interesting backstories for the other three characters.
Ultimately the question becomes, why? The four stories do interact at one point, but the payoff is not entirely worth it. I was left wondering what the point was over 80% of the book when the four characters only interact for about 5 pages and then return to their lives. There is no tension, no build-up to the interaction of five the characters, no mystical ways to link their stories outside of the five pages at the end. I was left asking, where is the plot?
Character study novels can be very interesting but the characters must have something to do, some way to be challenged and to grow. I realized that this essential element is missing from parts of Differential Equations, hence my feeling of being unfulfilled. Only two characters actually change in the story, but it is very subtle.
The potential for Differential Equations to touch the reader is evident, except as one who was expecting so much from this novel, I was ultimately let down. To me, the story is unfinished. I was left wanting more of a gourmet meal.