This sounds insanely complicated, but like all of Meloy’s novels, Do Not Become Alarmed glides along with a clarity that’s almost uncanny. How did she turn a contraption this elaborate into a page-turner? ... Each of these seemingly inconsequential, accidental incidents changes the course of fate, often in momentous ways. Do Not Become Alarmed proves that you don’t need hackneyed thriller devices to generate powerful momentum and suspense ... This novel is a bait and switch in the best possible sense. It promises readers easy-to-identify-with protagonists in a pair of mothers going through a parent’s worst nightmare. Then it presents them with so much more, a richer, broader palette of people to believe in and to understand.
...a very smart work of literary fiction that exposes how very thin the layer of good luck is that keeps most of us from falling into the abyss ... Meloy is such a deft writer that she keeps the adventure plot whizzing along even as she deepens our sense of the characters and the unfamiliar culture they have to navigate. You may (mistakenly) think that you don't want to enter the nightmare world of this novel, but Meloy makes you realize what a luxury it is to have that choice.
...an earnest and surprisingly generic children-in-jeopardy novel, one that makes few demands on us and doesn’t deliver much, either ... These women and their husbands aren’t distinct characters; they’re upper-middle-class types. The crunchy details, the chili-rub and panko crust that would bring them to life, are absent ... Meloy’s portrait of well-meaning but still ugly Americans resonates. So does her depiction of a certain kind of mental state.
All credit to Meloy’s glistening prose that every detail of this grisly scene is shudderingly convincing. The sultry afternoon, the beautiful, sheltered Americans knocked off course by a routine accident but left with no choice but to trust in the local, the faint moments of comedy, the momentary lapses of attention – all of it rings uneasily true … The problem can be identified in one word: tone. Given the sometimes graphically unpleasant nature of the events she describes, Meloy’s writing begins to lack scope, sensitivity and even, sometimes, heart … A novel that started out so promisingly develops a cartoon-like brittleness. The baddie is described lazily, almost Trumpishly, as ‘unredeemably bad’ and the Tarantinoesque descriptions of eyeballs popping and blood spurting sit uneasily in a book which, in a real and disturbing way, includes the rape of a minor.
...the book is essentially a write-off. To begin with, it’s a thriller without thrills. The parents’ pursuit of their children is hysterical but static, mistaking emotion for action, while the children’s experience itself is implausible and dull ... These may seem like technical problems, but in fact they spring from the book’s bedrock failure, which lies in its design, its desultory attempts at bigness, at significance ... Again and again, Do Not Become Alarmed trots out a vague sense of social responsibility, while focusing emotionally on a handful of nervous Americans. There’s something ugly about that; the whole project, in a way, replicates the colonialism it deplores.
Maile Meloy doesn’t waste a second before subverting the title of her gripping new novel, Do Not Become Alarmed. Catastrophe is the subject of a pair of foreboding epigrams, and that’s before you’ve even reached the first page ... But as Meloy reels you into the story with her cool and fluid prose, she clearly signals that yes, you should absolutely — and perhaps even perpetually — be more than a little alarmed ... when it comes to the genuine perils of an indifferent world, Meloy pulls no punches. As the story roars to a close, we’re forced to face just how random life actually is, and how close to a precipice each of us stands.
Meloy seems to see a particular American smugness in the sense of safety violated by the events of this cruise ... Do Not Become Alarmed is a bit glib to be an incisive social novel. With the narrative voice switching between so many characters, not all of them are fully fleshed out, and the ones who are are the white women ... the criticism of white American arrogance cuts about as deep as the usual white American self-flagellation, the apologies issued from center stage. But Meloy didn’t write a manifesto; she wrote a page-turner, prioritizing action, delivering a wild, propulsive plot with tight prose and a constant current of suspense. It’s a thrilling novel, well constructed and hard to put down, a sharp reminder that the tide can take us anywhere, even when the water looks fine.
Because Meloy follows every character, it’s not a mystery where they’ve gone, though knowing hardly alleviates the tension. Alarmed’s sensational plot turns sometimes veer toward the innocents-in-peril machinations of a Lifetime movie, but Meloy has a keenly intuitive ear for family dynamics, first-world privilege, and all the ways that human nature can adapt to the unthinkable.
Meloy deftly shifts point of view from one person to the next, giving voice with impressive authenticity to 13 characters ... Meloy has set up her premise with great dexterity, but the bigger feat is to make us care about the answer. Six spoiled children are lost in a strange country and their entitled parents are in a state of anguish. So what? Yet not only do we care sufficiently to turn the pages, but Meloy also has us worrying about every single one of these people ... At times the novel hovers close to melodrama but two ingredients save it: characters that are fully rendered and original, and writing that is beautifully spare and understated.
Infusing literary fiction with criminality and terror in a mode similar to that of Ann Patchett and Hannah Tinti, Meloy compounds the suspense in this gripping and incisive tale by orchestrating a profoundly wrenching shift in perspective, and morality, as well-meaning tourists face the dark realities of a complex place they viewed merely as a playground. Meloy’s commanding, heart-revving, and thought-provoking novel has enormous power and appeal.
Maile Meloy's Do Not Become Alarmed will keep you up all night, compelled by the book's twisty plot and seductive, tightly wound suspense, and afterward it will just keep you up ... [Meloy] is interested in delivering more than just a first-class international literary intrigue. She ups the ante by focusing on the inherent racial and class issues that inform the story ... No one escapes the novel unscathed, but Meloy's message about the privilege, and naïveté, that Americans of means enjoy is unmistakable. It gives this fast-paced thriller, with its alternating adult and child perspectives, an extra layer of complexity.
From the moment the children find themselves caught by a strong current, the narrative takes on a velocity, a palpable swoosh generated by countless plot turns, almost to the point of creating a bit of whiplash for the reader. Told in rotating third-person perspectives, Meloy moves among her ever-expanding cast of characters (20 in all) of different ages, classes and races, rarely missing a narrative beat. With ease and assurance, the author proves to be something of an acrobat in the way she tells this story of missing children and modern-day parenting ... Meloy’s ability to write about children and teenagers shines on the page. Their authentic dialogue and observations produce illuminated pockets of insights and innocence amid the escalating chaos.
At the same time, Meloy never strays far from her exploration of parenting and its inherent fears, the first-world privilege of growing up in the States versus the very different struggles of citizens in developing nations, and all that falls in between. The author excels at bridging the gap between these distinct worlds and never lets the reader forget where her characters come from.
Meloy peels layer after psychological layer away from the veneer of each of the grown-ups, probing their weaknesses and also the issues of infidelity, race, male posturing and female rage ... Award-winning author Maile Meloy lays confident claim to the thriller domain, expands it greatly, and makes it all her own. That she makes nearly a score of characters compelling and vividly memorable is reason enough to read this book. Meloy is a consummate storyteller, and Do Not Become Alarmed will grip readers to the end.
The plot unfolds with terrifying realism, made even more potent by Meloy’s sharp and economical character development. Every one of nearly 20 important characters is clearly distinguished by some memorable trait ... This writer can apparently do it all—New Yorker stories, children’s books, award-winning literary novels, and now, a tautly plotted and culturally savvy emotional thriller. Do not start this book after dinner or you will almost certainly be up all night.
In crafting this high-stakes page-turner, Meloy excels as a master of suspense. Though some of the circumstances seem piled on for the sake of melodrama and the adults’ shoddy attempts to cope veer into soap opera territory, the story is nonetheless engrossing for all its nerve-racking twists and turns.