Ray Wong is a talented writer, and the first few chapters of The Pacific Between is so deeply emotional and personal that it is almost embarrassing to read. You get the sense that Greg Lockland carries a lot of his author's emotional baggage onto the page, and if not, kudos to Ray for creating such an emotionally raw character. I certainly hope Greg is more creation than autobiography, because while Greg Lockland is an engaging character, he's not very likeable. He's a thirty-year-old man who thinks and behaves like a fourteen-year-old spoiled brat. He's selfish, and self-absorbed, and watching him stumble through his life, trampling mindlessly on the feelings of the people he is supposed to care about, is fascinating, but only in the same way watching a train wreck would be.
Wong creates ample tension in the opening chapters of his book, leading us to believe that Greg's quest to find his childhood sweetheart, Lian, will coincide with his quest to find in himself the man he never grew up to be. Unfortunately, at mid-book all the tension disappears, and for several chapters you are left wondering just where the story is going. To be honest, Wong almost lost me. If it weren't for all the promise I thought he showed in the early chapters, I probably would have put this book down and walked away, but I stayed with it, and I recommend you do the same.
I believe the real test of a first author's ability can be judged at the end of his debut novel. By then, the writer has found the confidence to tell his readers what he really wants to say, and, if he has any talent, he has found the voice he wants to say it with. The end of The Pacific Between is like the rising crescendo in Bolero - getting faster, louder, and bolder as it clips along. By the end, I understood the courage it took to create a character as flawed as Greg Lockland. A lesser writer would have made Greg more likeable, less petulant, and lost the inherent truth encapsulated in the character's flaws. I think Ray Wong has shown us that this is just the beginning of what will be a long literary career.
You can read the original in The Bluff.