A clever autobiographical second US appearance from the Chilean-born author (Bad Vibes, 1997).
Narrator Beltran Soler, a 37-year-old seismologist, is preparing to fly from Los Angeles to a professional conference in Tokyo when a small earthquake hits. A conversation in flight with a beautiful fellow passenger plants in his busy mind memories of movies he had grown up with—and the bulk of the story offers fragmentary reminiscences of his family’s and his own experiences in Chile and southern California, connected to films that appeared during his childhood, in the late 1960s, through his 18th year. Some of the linkages are explicit: Dumbo expresses a fear of losing his mother (who is herself repeatedly victimized by her errant husband’s frequent absences from home); Oliver! parallels the Solers’ struggles to find a home; the figure of Huck Finn in Tom Sawyer inspires visions of leaving home and seizing independence. Even more poignantly, Close Encounters of the Third Kind imaginatively likens the derelictions of Beltran’s father Juan with that film’s protagonist—who “goes up to the mother ship, abandoning his wife and children to go off into outer space.” The heady lure of grade-B disaster films confirms Beltran’s fascination with quakes, and various G-rated films strike home, so to speak, provoking the realization that “nothing is as moving as a film about the value of family when one doesn’t have one of his own.” But the novel is more than lament, as other movie memories embody the Solers’ phlegmatic stoicism, as well as ruefully funny universal experiences of adolescent mood swings and the discoveries of sex and first love.
An ingenious premise, developed with exemplary warmth and wit: a thoroughly captivating tale.