AMERICAS AND THE CARIBBEAN
Translated by Lisa Dillman
This novella, first published in 2013, and published in English translation by And Other Stories in 2016, comes in at barely 100 pages, so I was able to read it in a single day. Set during a mysterious mosquito-borne pandemic, I found it to be a comically noirish gangland tale of rival families, faintly resonant of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story crossed with a bit of Raymond Chandler.
Our (anti-)hero, known as The Redeemer, is a gritty, hard-boiled fixer, a sex-obsessed alcoholic and depressive, who works for someone known only as the Dolphin (because, it seems, he’s full of holes, both from being shot and from wearing out his nose with “too much blow”). The Redeemer becomes embroiled in an enterprise to, as it were, repatriate the bodies of two dead (just about adult) children, each of whom has died while in the hands of one of the enemy families, the Costas and the Fonsecas.
The story read to me like a pastiche of noir fiction, since these gangland tropes are so familiar. The book’s use of language is quite often ridiculous, though extraordinarily inventive and read-out-loud entertaining. One bruiser is described as walking “like he was forever on his way out of the ICU, moving each muscle with considerable care“. Peak stupid quote though was when the Redeemer thinks “Talk and cock is all I got … And sometimes fear.” What a tit!
All the characterisation is fairly thin, but that doesn’t matter because the book doesn’t seek to provide well-developed characters. It’s very testosterone-driven, and most of the female characters are either dead, drunk or simply fun in the sack. After reading this book, you do find yourself using phrases like “fun in the sack”.
The Redeemer’s paramour is known only as Three Times Blonde – we’ll leave it to the imagination as to why that might be. He doesn’t know her name and she doesn’t know his, but that doesn’t stop them – maybe it’s a bonus! – and the plot is inter-spliced with fairly, erm, graphic sex scenes. (Writing this review seems to be making me even more uncomfortably British than usual.) I should make it clear, too, that I’m not really criticising the book for its female stereotyping, since the men are all ciphers too…
Some of the imagined context of the novel has become familiar to us as part of everyday life during a pandemic: people are told to stay indoors, but not panic, and “it was terrifying how readily everyone had accepted enclosure.” Mask-wearing has become ubiquitous, with runs on pharmacies, people sneeze into their elbows rather than their hands and there’s an amusing scene set in a strip club, where: “One girl was dancing before a cluster of liquored-up fools, naked but for the mask over her mouth; each time she leaned close she made as if to take it off, and the boozers whooped in titillation.”
Like a fever dream, this high-octane tale spun out kaleidoscopically before my eyes, but I’m fairly certain I’ll struggle to remember much about it in a week’s time. I’m pleased, though, to have ticked this one off my massive list of unread books for week 3 of Novellas in November (#novnov).