Bevenab’s Twenty-First Year by Steven Ferrill
Bevenab, a young woman living in Thailand, has just turned twenty-one. She works ten-hour shifts at a grueling factory job where she carefully covers up her natural beauty, hoping to avoid the predatory attentions of her overseer. The small sum she earns there is enough to buy her family a proper breakfast each morning – and little else. Even so, the family’s luck seems to turn when Bevenab’s brother, Lek, finds a job of his own aboard a fishing boat, which promises to pay handsomely if the men can bring back a proper haul. Bevenab herself enters a beauty contest and, if she wins, it means she will finally be able to quit her demeaning job at the factory. But luck has a way of going sour, and the family’s bright future might be in greater jeopardy than even they realize.
According to the author’s notes, Ferrill has made a total of seventeen trips to Thailand over the years, which explains how he is able to communicate both the country’s appeal and danger with such studied skill. The accumulation of all those trips allows Ferrill to write about Thailand and its people convincingly and confidently. Bevenab’s personality is particularly entertaining, and her plights create a narrative so immersive that readers will have difficulty acknowledging the need to come up for breath. The only issue with the story – and a minor one at that – is the characterization of its cast, which sometimes seems to rely on standard archetypes, rather than the creation of fresh faces. For example, most of the male characters fall into two camps: either the irredeemably villainous or the infallibly virtuous. Few are shown to demonstrate the complicated moral map that human beings are, in fact, known to possess. Nevertheless, Ferrill’s novel remains a compelling one, and we look forward to reading his future works.