cover image Shantytown


Cesar Aira, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. New Directions, $13.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1911-2

This disappointing potboiler by the acclaimed author of The Hare and Varamo introduces Maxi, a muscular and dimwitted young man who spends his nights in a Buenos Aires shantytown helping trash pickers carry away their finds. Pitted against him is Deputy Inspector Cabezas, a cop looking for a way to crack open a drug ring, and who may or may not be the father of Cynthia, a young woman recently murdered. When Cabezas's attention is drawn toward Maxi, he uses Maxi's sister, Vanessa, and her friend, Jessica, to track Maxi down in an attempt to discover who is bringing the drugs into the nighborhood. In concise chapters, Aira takes us through each character's point of view, giving the reader a glimpse into their psyches, but slow pacing, random side plots, and a lack of resolution make it difficult to care. There are flashes of wonderful writing here, as when a torrential rainstorm gives Aira the chance to describe the shantytown and its lights poetically, and a murder that will take the reader by surprise, but neither is enough to compensate for the sluggish trek toward the end. (Nov.)