A would-be fashion mogul comes to America to pursue the American Dream, only to wind up wearing an orange Gitmo jumpsuit.
Gilvarry’s debut novel aspires to be an allegory about how immigrant ambition has become stifled in the wake of post-9/11 paranoia. The narrator, Boyet Hernandez, arrives in New York City from the Philippines in 2002, eager to pursue a career in haute couture. But the reader knows immediately that his dreams were dashed: The novel is written in the form of a prison memoir, composed at the suggestion of his jailers as he awaits judgment from a military tribunal for allegedly consorting with terrorists. Chapters begin with observations about the camp’s cramped quarters and barely humane regulations, but the story mostly focuses on Boyet (nicknamed Boy) as he makes his slow rise in the fashion world, consorting with models, begging for favors from established designers and hustling for financing. That last effort is what gets him in trouble, because his main patron is a sketchy landlord who possesses a questionable amount of weaponize-able fertilizer. Gilvarry keeps the tone of the story lightly satirical without diminishing the seriousness of Boy’s predicament, and he skillfully captures the frenetic world of striving designers and Brooklyn hipsters. The novel’s chief flaws have more to do with structure than tone. Characters in the story besides Boy rarely become more than strictly functional (a publicist with the unfortunate name of Ben Laden is a thin signifier of law-enforcement ineptitude), and shifting between Boy’s incarceration and Manhattan memories grows repetitive and undramatic until the closing pages. A fashion writer’s faux annotations add little, and his afterword closes the book on a melodramatic note that clashes with Boy’s character.
Gilvarry is a talented writer and observer, but the satirical elements could have been better tailored.