Alan Grostephan. Northwestern Univ./TriQuarterly, $17.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5230-4
With unflinching brutality and rawness, this remarkably executed debut novel achieves a highly original, catchy prose—often mingling Spanish slang throughout its hardboiled, supercharged narrative. Thirteen-year-old Hernán lives in a small backwater town in the jungle but is forced to move to a slum outside Bogota with his family after his father, the riverboat driver Wilfredo, barely survives an attempted lynching by a vengeful posse made up of villagers who resent him for escorting murderous paramilitary rebels. As his family goes to pieces, Hernán falls in with the wrong crowd and gets la Coca, a neighborhood girl, pregnant. While studying for a university entrance exam, he is forced to resort to various indignities such as stealing a set of Encyclopedias from a local school and begging on buses. Despite the focus on Hernán, the novel follows each member of the displaced family and their variegated efforts to make do, and the multifaceted stories flow seamlessly, helped by the author’s evocative, layered prose. “They were drunk on no occasion, feeling vicious and hungry, like rats or water moccasins in the low light of the dangling bulb that had turned brown somehow, as if full of water and covering them in a sandy texture.” From the relentless sexual exploitation of female workers by an albino factory manager to the various backbreaking endeavors of Hernán’s father who wanders through the country dazed and confused in a kind of self-imposed exile taking on miserable jobs for no apparent reason, the author’s focus on the downtrodden feels uniquely visceral and real. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/29/2013
Release date: 06/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
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