cover image First Confession

First Confession

Montserrat Fontes. W. W. Norton & Company, $18.95 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02891-1

Two privileged nine-year-olds, headstrong Andrea Durcal and her gentle cousin Victor, become dangerously entangled in events beyond their grasp in a Mexican border town in 1947. The lives of the Durcals are altered by a disastrous chain of events: Alicia, one of their maids, is murdered in her bed; shortly afterward, Andrea's charming, reckless father accidentally kills a night watchman while driving too fast. Having ``absolute license to do as we pleased'' and craving adult supervision (they try ``to do 50 bad things before lunch''), the children spy on a prostitute and steal her money to buy toys for scruffy urchins living by the river, who give them a beating instead of thanks. Andrea unleashes even more misfortune when she tries to use the stolen cash to rectify her father's wrongdoing. Laden with guilt, the children approach their first confession and communion--he in his miniature cardinal's robes and she in a dress of bridal purity--as the tale reaches its climax. This ambitious, awkward first novel is marred by stylistical banality. (Jan.)