cover image The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini

The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini

Stephen Dobyns. Viking Books, $17.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81980-5

Dobyns is an accomplished poet (Cemetery Nights) and a popular mystery writer (Saratoga Longshot), and his new book masterfully combines his gift for cliff-hanging narrative with his dark and meditative sensibility. Specifically, the muse of contemporary Latin American literaturethe spirit of magic realismglides through this fascinating tale of power and sexual obsession, self-deception and greed. Storytelling is at the heart of the psychological sorcery of the book. Three middle-aged men gather for a reunion dinner at the home of their fellow schoolmate Dr. Daniel Pacheco, a rich and charismatic surgeon. They have risked their lives to come to this banquet, since civil war boils outside in the streets of this unnamed Latin American country. A photograph of a beautiful young woman in Pacheco's library engages their curiosity. It depicts Antonia Puccini, Dr. Pacheco's housekeeper, now many years older and mysteriously attached to her employer. As Dr. Pacheco tells the story of his curious relationship with Antoniaan unholy bond of power and submissionthe others are moved to tell their own stories, revealing secrets of their shameful and vainglorious pasts. While each man strips away the layers of artifice from his public persona, violence escalates outside. This public brutality echoes the casual violence and private deceits of these four ordinary and doomed individuals. With its sinuous narrative and cool atmosphere of the fantastic, reminiscent of the haunting tales of Jorge Luis Borges, this novel is as spellbinding and resonant as an unsettling dream. BOMC alternate. (June)