Setting

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 143

There is nothing quite like reading a book that sweeps one away to faraway lands and immerses one in the daily life of a different culture. Dangerous Wishes achieves this with complete success due to Sleator's extensive knowledge of Thai culture and his story-telling prowess. The lives and customs of...

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There is nothing quite like reading a book that sweeps one away to faraway lands and immerses one in the daily life of a different culture. Dangerous Wishes achieves this with complete success due to Sleator's extensive knowledge of Thai culture and his story-telling prowess. The lives and customs of Thais do not merely serve as an exotic backdrop for a suspenseful adventure story but are instead the heart of the novel. Thai spiritual beliefs, traditions, customs, and everyday lives are essential to the events of the novel and are so well integrated into the plot that the novel would collapse without this fusion of elements. Sleator takes his characters on a journey through the streets of Bangkok, out of the city into the countryside, into a country village, and back again to the city, giving a view of Thais in their diversity.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

Dangerous Wishes is written in three movements (sections in which action rises, peaks, and then declines). The first movement is one of discovery as Dom arrives in Thailand, explores his new home, meets new people, experiences the streets of Bangkok, and visits Lek's room. The action rises from hints that the house is haunted until Lek's cart is destroyed, then it declines until Dom and Lek agree to go to Lek's village to look for the jade Buddha. The next movement is a journey of a stranger-in-a-strange-land, in which Dom starts as the stranger surrounded by customs he neither knows nor understands. The action of this movement peaks when the jade Buddha is removed from the corpse of Duan, declines rapidly with Duan's thank you in Thai on an English computer, and then rises sharply into the third movement, the flight. Each movement has its own characters, locations, and atmosphere. Sleator, in the first movement, sets the stage for exotic adventure by placing Dom in scenes of Bangkok filled with commonplace automobiles, buses, and policemen. He then slides from the familiar into the unfamiliar by putting Dom among slow moving people in narrow and and alien streets. This shift not only helps ease Dom (and the reader) into the intricacies of Thai culture, but it helps to establish an atmosphere of expectant anxiety and tension. The second movement introduces the train, which becomes important in the third movement, and it brings Dom to a Thai village in which little is familiar to him. Completely surrounded by Thai culture he must now learn to behave according to new and different social rules, including how to properly wai, a gesture of respect that is essential to avoid making enemies. The third movement is a perfectly paced masterpiece of tension and excitement. In it, the Thai spiritual world has become palpable, completing Dom's total immersion into another culture's way of viewing the world; a khwan capable of driving him insane dogs his footsteps, acting by rules utterly new to Dom. The third movement is sustained by frenetic invention; Sleator has some new surprise every few pages, each adding to the danger, with Dom and Lek becoming ever more frantic to evade their pursuer until Dom is overcome by madness. The action peaks as he is pinned to the ground with his head exposed on the street where automobiles can run over it, then declines as he recovers his senses, runs back to the shrine and rescues the jade Buddha from Lek, who has himself been overcome by the khwan's influence. This structure is harmonious and proportioned, with nothing out of place, and it helps to gradually draw the novel's audience into the setting for the action so that the terrifying events of the third movement make sense.

Social Sensitivity

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Sleator uses Thai customs and traditions to generate the plot of Dangerous Wishes. His presentation of them is matter-of-fact, without being judgmental. The result is not just an exciting adventure but an intimate association with how Thais experience their lives. Dangerous Wishes is the rare novel that manages to take its readers inside a culture and experience it from the inside out; excitement leavened with education make most rewarding reading.

The novel contains implied criticism of some aspects of Thai life. For instance, pollution figures prominently in a few scenes, with a river so polluted that falling into it can bring on severe diseases, and: "They didn't seem at all concerned about the environment here. You could literally see the pollution in the air on the main streets, and a lot of the cops wore masks over their noses and mouths." Such pollution is frightening, but it is used primarily as part of a larger picture of Thai life. Also implied is criticism of the status of the poor in Thailand; educational opportunities are available to the rich, but poor people like Lek must end their educations early in order to survive.

The Thai justice system is also touched on: It turns out that Bia (from the earlier novel The Spirit House) was arrested for a crime he did not commit and unfairly imprisoned after his boss lied about a theft committed by a favorite hotel maid; no one, not even Bia's family, was informed of his arrest, conviction, or imprisonment—"It was no surprise to him [Lek] that money and influence were more important, when it came to justice, than guilt or innocence." These observations of some negative aspects of Thai society are made by an author who lives much of his life in Thailand, but they may irritate readers who would prefer that Thailand only be praised. On the other hand, these negative aspects of Thai life contribute to the honesty of the overall depiction of Thailand and help the narrative's tone avoid any hint of condescension, which could well occur if the narrative focused only on the happy rich living in a fictional paradise. As it is, Dangerous Wishes serves the Thais well by showing them as complex human beings whose culture, values, thoughts, and aspirations are to be taken seriously.

For Further Reference

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Daggett, Margaret L. "Recommended: William Sleator." English Journal 76 (March 1987): 93-94. Explains Sleator's appeal for high school students.

Davis, James, and Hazel Davis. Presenting William Sleator. New York: Macmillan, 1992. A critical study that discusses Sleator's life and how it relates to his fiction.

Flowers, Ann A. Horn Book Magazine 72, 2 (March-April 1996): 200-201. Summarizes the plot of Dangerous Wishes and says, "The Thai setting is firmly constructed, the shaky friendship between representatives of two quite different cultures is believable, and the rapidly escalating chase sequence is riveting."

Monks, Merri. Booklist 91, 22 (August 1995): 1942. Highly recommends Dangerous Wishes.

Sleator, William. "Chaos, Strange Attractors, and Other Peculiarities in the English Classroom." In Authors' Insights: Turning Teenagers into Readers and Writers. Edited by Donald R. Gallo. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1992, pp. 43-52. Sleator explains how science fiction can encourage young readers to think and to read. This essay indicates that Sleator puts much thought into the interest and needs of his audience.

——. Penguin Putnam Inc. Online. Web page: http://www. penguinput nam.com/catalog/yadult / authors/2082_biography. html. Sleator provides a short account of his life and interests.

——. "William Sleator." In Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults. Edited by Donald R. Gallo. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1990, pp. 193-194. Sleator tells a little about how he became a writer.

——. "William Sleator on Creating Readers." In Literature for Today's Young Adults. Third edition. Edited by Kenneth L. Donelson and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Glenview, IL: Harper, 1989, p. 348. Telling a well-thought-out story is important for keeping the attention of young readers.

Williams, Royce D. Web page: http: / / saturn.math.uaa.alaska.edu/~royc e / sleator. html. Photos and reviews of Sleator's books.

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