An exceptionally engaging US debut, and first novel, from the Chilean Fuguet (who's published another novel and a story collection in his native land) just might signal a new stage in Latin fiction: a post-boom natural realism that finds North American precedent not in Faulkner (the hero of Garc°a M†rquez et al.) but in Salinger. If Fuguet's self-absorbed young narrator, Matias Vicunas, was really as bored and pathetic as he claims, his narrative wouldn't be the delightfully garrulous adventure in self-discovery it is. Seventeen and alienated, Matias is pissed off and antisocial, a true rebel without a clue. So he indulges in the best illicit stuff he can: sex, drugs, and (bad) rock-and-roll. Among Chile's ``golden children''—the privileged kids of the conservative ruling class- -Matias seems hellbent on trouble. Unlike his friends, he's uninterested in nurturing a career, and he finds no comfort in politics, as his disaffected elders once did. In fact, Fuguet smartly allows Matias's one sympathetic teacher—a sexy lit prof— to reveal herself as a political clichÇ and a rabid left-wing anti- Semite. Which is particularly important because Matias begins to take pride in his family's great secret: his mother's Jewish ancestors. Disgusted by the affected Catholicism of her family, Matias is equally grossed-out by his handsome father and his swinging social set of hypocrites who reserve vice only for their own class, though a father and son debauch (with good coke and expensive hookers) does bring them closer. Like Holden Caufield, with whom he identifies, Matias craves ``innocence,'' since he's ``not that complicated. Really.'' The time-warping soundtrack, the slangy translation, and the cool pop references help affirm Fuguet's sense of 1980s Chile as America in the '50s. Here is what the new economic prosperity engenders culturally, he implies, and thank goodness we have such a clever novelist to guide us.
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