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The Mosquito Coast (1982) by Paul Theroux

As a writer there is always the temptation to be a cruel god over the imagined characters, typing down conflict after conflict without sympathy; there is also an even greater risk of loving the characters too much, coddling them as babes, and becoming benevolent creators over the fiction.

cg fewstonThe Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Empathy & Imagination in Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast

As a writer there is always the temptation to be a cruel god over the imagined characters, typing down conflict after conflict without sympathy; there is also an even greater risk of loving the characters too much, coddling them as babes, and becoming benevolent creators over the fiction.

cg fewston

“For me,” wrote Marge Piercy, an American novelist and activist, “the gifts of the novelist are empathy and imagination” (182).

cg fewston
Paul Theroux, American Novelist (born 1941) (© Steve McCurry/Handout)

Although Paul Theroux in his novel The Mosquito Coast produces a highly imaginative adventure of a roughshod man, Allie Fox, who leaves America behind and moves his family to the wilderness of Honduras, Theroux remains empathetic to his characters and constantly illustrates his comprehension of his characters’ humanistic states of being.

In Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast Allie Fox, father and driving force of the novel, is produced and established by the novelist’s skill at fully understanding what propels Fox in his world.

cg fewston

“Writers, contemplating their characters,” Douglas Bauer explains, “try to figure out what motivates them. How they think. How they will react. What emotions they will display in a variety of situations” (104).

The reason for the necessity of this task upon the writer is to develop multiple sided characters that become fully formed.

Bauer argues that “a single-shaded character is an uncompleted character, and an uncompleted character is an uninteresting one” and that not every character has to be likable (104).

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Allie Fox is certainly not very likable but he can be understood in his complex beliefs because the writer has taken the time to fully shape Fox’s being, despite Fox being a hard-ass on his children, pushing them to be ready for the worst case scenario, the end of America through nuclear war.

cg fewston

The son, Charlie, describes for the reader what his father believes:

Father went on to say that savagery was seeing and not believing you could do it yourself, and that that was a fearful condition. The man who saw a bird and made it into a god, because he could not imagine himself flying himself, was a savage of the most basic kind (Theroux 157).

And more of the Father’s rhetoric over-powering the other characters and shaping the man into another form, that of an arrogant self-serving monster:

cg fewston
Paul Theroux, American Novelist (born 1941)

Had there been a war? … We did not know. But if you believed any of this, you could be very happy here…Father’s talk took away your sense of smell. After hearing him speak about America, it comforted you to think that you were so far away on the Mosquito Coast. It comforted him (Theroux 277)!

But when Allie Fox becomes completely disagreeable during this wild escapade through the Honduran jungles, Theroux illustrates how even the reader can relate to such a brute through empathy and knowledge of the human condition pertaining to fear or phobia:

cg fewston

He cried most when he saw the birds… “Take those birds away!” It was his old horror of scavengers, but now that he couldn’t raise his arms, he was especially afraid. He was fearful of other things, too. The way the boat tipped—he couldn’t swim as a cripple (364).

And more of the same…

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He spoke in baby talk about living on all fours far away in Mosquitia, and about going to sea in a sieve. Usually he said nothing. He stared. Thoughts folded his brow. Tears gathered in his eyes and, without his making a sound, rolled down his cheeks (369).

cg fewston

Theroux swims the reader in and out of the many pools of Fox’s condition, a complex but believable one, for no one person is simply prima facie, so very one-sided and simple. It is then that Fox becomes fully formed and alive.

The reason for this, as Montaigne considered, is that “ugly unphotogenic people may be tender and wise persons whose persons we require in the stories of our lives” (Baxter 173).

cg fewston
Paul Theroux, American Novelist (born 1941)

Fox’s is a complete character because Theroux shows the reader the ugly as well as the beautiful.

cg fewston

Thus, Theroux ends the novel, albeit cruel at first glance, with the violent death of Allie Fox being eaten by the birds he feared; Theroux, however, remains empathetic to the story and its characters.

In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster believed that “nearly every one can be summed up in a sentence, and yet there is this wonderful feeling of human depth” (71).

cg fewston

Theroux fulfills the quality of “human depth” by evoking empathy in the reader by using powerful descriptions that dive deep into the human condition. Theroux remembers that his characters are not really imagined beings but human beings in a real world:

cg fewston
Paul Theroux, American Novelist (born 1941)

I had never heard a single person criticize God before. But Father talked about God the way he talked about jobbing plumbers and electricians. “The dead boy with the spinning top” was the way he described God. “And the top is almost out of steam. Feel it wobble (278)?

cg fewston
Paul Theroux, American Novelist (born 1941)

I saw the clouds over Polski’s barn, and the valley hills and the corn. I smelled the goldenrod and skunk cabbage, pine gum, cut grass, the sweetness of dew on dandelions, the warm tar on country roads (334).

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The twins were asleep beside him. They slept holding hands (369).

[The birds] were not frightened. This victory had taken away their fear. They hesitated, they hopped aside, they gave me a look at Father’s head. I grabbed a stick from the sand, but even as I went forward, a vulture bent over and struck and tore again, like a child snatching something extra because he knows he will be scolded away, and this one had [father’s] tongue (370).

cg fewston
Paul Theroux, American Novelist (born 1941)

Theroux not only fully shapes his characters by showing the good along with the bad, but he also remembers to treat them as human beings, for better of worse, and these constants help make a powerfully moving story.

cg fewston

Marge Piercy continues her statement about a novelist requiring empathy and imagination by explaining that she inhabits her characters and attempts to “put on their worldviews, their ways of moving, their habits, their beliefs and the lies they tell themselves, their passions and antipathies, even the language in which they speak and think: the colors of their lives” (182).

Theroux excels at all of these tasks in his novel The Mosquito Coast. Theroux gives us his characters and situations for what they are and he lets the reader decide the infinity beyond such extraordinary moments, allowing his imagined characters to live beyond the end of the last page because he cared enough to be honest with them and their world.


Bauer, Douglas. The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006. Print.

Baxter, Charles. The Art of Subtext. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2007. Print.

Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel (1927). New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1985. Print.

Piercy, Marge. “Life of Prose and Poetry: An Inspiring Combination.” Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times. New York: Times Books, 2001. 178-184. Print.

Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast (1982). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. Print.

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cg fewston


cg fewston

The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London. He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Fathers Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystics Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).

cg fewston

He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.

cg fewston
cg fewston

Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being is a captivating new dystopian science fiction novel by CG Fewston, an author already making a name for himself with his thought-provoking work. Set in the year 2183, Conquergood is set in a world where one company, Korporation, reigns supreme and has obtained world peace, through oppression... The world-building in the novel is remarkable. Fewston has created a believable and authentic post-apocalyptic society with technological wonders and thought-provoking societal issues. The relevance of the themes to the state of the world today adds an extra wrinkle and makes the story even more compelling.”

cg fewston
cg fewston

“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”

Ian Skewis, Associate Editor for Bloodhound Books, & author of best-selling novel A Murder of Crows (2017)  

“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”

“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”

~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”

~ Matthew Harffy, prolific writer & best-selling historical fiction author of the “Bernicia Chronicles” series

“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…” “Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.” “There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”

cg fewston

GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction

FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)

“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”

“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”

~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”

“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”

“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”

“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”

cg fewston
cg fewston

American Novelist CG FEWSTON


cg fewston

This is my good friend, Nicolasa (Nico) Murillo, CRC, who is a professional chef & a wellness mentor. I’ve known her since childhood & I’m honored to share her story with you. In life, we all have ups & downs, some far more extreme than others. Much like in Canada, in America, the legalization of marijuana has become a national movement, which includes safe & legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use & research for all.

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In these stressful & unprecedented times, it makes good sense to promote & encourage the state or condition of being in good physical & mental health.

To learn more you can visit: Americans For Safe Access & Texans for Safe Access, ASA (if you are in Texas).

The mission of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.


TEXANS FOR SAFE ACCESS ~ share the mission of their national organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research, for all Texans.


Stay safe & stay happy. God bless.


Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis



cg fewston

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