The Five Lost Days, by William Petrick
Publisher: Pearhouse Press
Publication Date: November 18, 2008
Format: Advance Reader Copy, Trade Paperback, 349 pages
“But reporters and filmmakers and media people always have an idea of what they want their story or interview to come to. You’re not down here to just see where things will lead. You have your own idea of what you want out of Cayo and the curandero and us.”
“That’s a little unfair,” Burns said, although he knew better.” 
When Michael Burns turns up in the mountains of Belize with his crew to film footage for a documentary on the last surviving curandero (traditional Mayan healer), he already thinks he has everything all figured out. He knows exactly what he wants from each of his “characters” and he already knows the story that he wants to tell. But right from the beginning things start to go wrong. When one of his crew leaves the film that they desperately need to capture their footage at the village hotel, somebody has to go back to get it, and when they do it sets off a chain of events that will shock them all and change all of their lives.
I was excited to read this book from the beginning. The combination of the topics of perception and curanderos were intriguing to me, but I must admit that I wasn’t crazy about the cover of the book and that definitely affected my perception of how I felt about reading it. I went from anticipation to dragging my feet. However from the moment I picked up this novel and resigned myself to reading a few pages, cover firmly tucked back and out of sight, I was hooked. Petrick’s characters and their situation drew me in right away. Everyone in the novel is a shade a gray and have various hurts and regrets that are haunting their lives and makes the interaction between them fascinating and compelling.
Burns thinks that he knows it all and can control the “characters” in his documentary just as much as he tries to keep his relationships under control so as not to have to confront whatever demons he harbors in his heart. He has a girlfriend back home who has never been able to get through to him, but he is intrigued by the possibilities of Kelly, the American scientist who also serves as the curandero’s assistant. Kelly is equally intrigued by Burns, but she comes with baggage of her own, including a troubled marriage to her surly husband Frank, an aging revolutionary who has a few tricks up his sleeve. Burns’ awakening as he interacts with Pedro, the curandero makes you wonder if it will be enough to help him start to heal his issues. I loved the shifting narratives which were delicately balanced throughout the novel so you got just enough of any one character to keep you interested while still balancing the story. The only time this got a little confusing was the abrupt entrance of some very minor characters toward the end.
What’s wonderful about this novel is that all the human drama and emotion is set against the back drop of civil war, the beauty of the rainforest, and a culture that moves at a much different place and with different beliefs than what the American filmmakers represent. The filmmakers have five days to shoot their documentary and they run into many problems as they try to impose their will on the world around them. The surprising ending leaves you to wonder what lessons any of them take from their experiences.
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