cover image Bonita Avenue

Bonita Avenue

Peter Buwalda, trans. from the Dutch by Jonathan Reeder. Hogarth, $26 (544p) ISBN 978-0-553-41785-2

Dutch author Buwalda’s magnificent first novel offers proof of Tolstoy’s dictum that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Three uniquely unreliable voices narrate this darkly humorous familial drama: the mentally precarious Aaron Bever; his beautiful girlfriend, Joni Sigerius; and her stepfather, eminent math genius and university rector Siem Sigerius. Their interweaving narratives, which hop between the Netherlands, Shanghai, Belgium, and California, chart the years between the rise and fall of their outwardly successful but privately dysfunctional family. Buwalda displays the sexual appetites of his characters from puritanical to hedonistic against the 1990s backdrop of an emerging Internet and concomitant ascendency of online porn. Temperatures rise until the explosion of a Dutch fireworks factory, which is followed by familial pyrotechnics. A custard doughnut plays a decisive role in deciding the Sigeriuses’ fate. Questions arise regarding the nature of probability and coincidence, as well as who really gets to wear not only the pants in a relationship but the racy feminine undergarments, too. (Jan.)