cover image Bodysnatchers


Juan Carlos Onetti. Pantheon Books, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40178-0

Like a South American Faulkner, Uruguayan novelist Onetti uses interior monologues and shifting points of view to evoke the moral devastation of a provincial town. When a bordello opens in Santa Maria, the townsfolk mount a ``holy war,'' yet the whores in this rich, reflective novel command far more sympathy than do the town's ``decent'' citizens. Jorge, a rebellious adolescent and aspiring poet, breathes contempt for his respectable father, who rents the house of ill repute to Mr. Larsen (aka Body Snatcher), a pimp and bookkeeper. Larsen cloaks his hardened cynicism in romantic dreams and self-delusions. Jorge's lover, Julita, his brother's widow, pretends that Jorge is her dead husband. All the main characters live on lies; their dreams and schemes are a recipe for tragedy. First published in the mid-1960s and now in its first English translation, this masterful novel ranks with the fictions of Puig, Cortazar and Marquez. His serpentine lyricism tempered by whiplash irony, Onetti is an elegist of the 20th century, its neuroses, sexual represession, mafias, anti-Semitism, office time-clocks and terminal lives. (May)