POLAR VORTEX: Desire, Lies, Betrayal?
A stunning opening that is drenched in sensuality, charged desire, and the unknown which Mootoo keeps building on throughout her story. I cannot remember reading an opening page that was this evocative.
Taking us into Priya and Alex's relationship, seeking, exposing, and highlighting the cracks that have formed between, around, and above them and how easy it is for partners to spiral into doubt and icy exchanges, instead of tackling the Prakash in the room. Polar Vortex raises questions about the way they communicate or don't, what has changed, who they are to themselves and to each other, and how the imminent arrival of Prakash hovers over them, taunting and tainting their love.
But what really captivates the reader is the individual self that is to be examined here: how we grow, change, and interact with ourselves and the image of us; whether it is the image we hold of ourselves or what someone else sees. How we sometimes can conjure crippling uncertainties that will manifest in damaging undercurrents in our relationships, and eventually those undercurrents will drag us under.
The tension, avoidance, and lack of laying-it-all-bare communication is palpable as we watch this dance between Priya and Alex, between Priya and Prakash, as they all, equally, refuse to be the first one to reveal their vulnerability, or present scenarios that are solely coloured by their individual, biased brush. The prose is tight and weaves such a realistic look into an intimate relationship where both partners are floundering in a sea of misgivings, misunderstandings, and a lack of contemplative reflection of what is actually the root of their friction. I appreciated the way Mootoo weaved certain perceptions of cultural aspects not their own to lovers and friends, that no matter how enlightened, how accepting they are, their privilege will always, in particular situations, raise its head; how refugees are welcomed or not, how different cultural behaviours become stark in certain settings and with certain groups.
Now, as for this man Prakash, deep sighs. I am going to need him to take several seats; the way in which he positioned himself as the victim of some insurmountable slight, insinuating acts that either didn't happen or were far from what he described, his gaslighting of Priya's queerness, erased any feeling of consideration that I had begun to extend to him. Sir please go and purchase some objectivity and a treatise on the manifestations of toxic masculinity.
This novel was such a human story, realistic in the partnership it portrayed and in the non-threat threat that our main character has to face whether conjured or real. What Mootoo executed perfectly was the duality that lies within each of us, the capacity to be extremely open and also self-servingly deceitful. We all make mistakes, hurt each other and ourselves, but without true communication and acknowledgement, only the wounding remains.