In her debut novel, Szilágyi tells a story about loss, the human cost of governmental repression, and the painful possibilities of growing up, all with overtones of fantastical detail.
Pluta is 14 years old and on her own in Brooklyn in 1980 after running away from boarding school. She is an odd, sullenly determined girl who seems to at first fall into a lucky fantasy of New York runaway life. She immediately meets an eccentric young man who takes her out to dinner, accompanies her to a tattoo parlor so she can get wings tattooed on her back, and welcomes her into his shabby Gowanus apartment without any malicious intentions. Unfortunately, Pluta’s new independence quickly runs into the darker side of city life, and she plunges into a predictable decline, sleeping in parks and turning to prostitution to survive. This bleak coming-of-age story alternates with glimpses of Pluta’s life just two years earlier, when she lived in Buenos Aires with her mother and beloved, professorial father. When Pluta’s father is disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War, her mother, battered by grief and fear, decides to flee to America and install Pluta in a fancy boarding school. These South American chapters have a vivid emotional earnestness that fits awkwardly with Pluta’s struggles in New York, which suffer from a chilly numbness. When terrible or difficult things happen to Pluta, Szilágyi explains how she feels but does not give the reader the opportunity to feel it. Without the driving force of clear emotions and motivations, Pluta’s choices seem slightly baffling, and the various threads of story drift into disparate parts. The novel’s fantastical elements feel like picturesque trappings, never quite woven into the plot or the emotional heft of the story in a way that makes sense.
A novel with a number of interesting parts that don’t quite come together.