MASCARA by Ariel Dorfman


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Chilean-exile-writer Dorfman's first novel in his own English (the others--Windows and The Last Song of Manuel Sendero--were translated) is a wispy affair, pregnant with all kind of political/existential overtones but never once able to cut, square, and deal its cards in a coherent manner. The chief narrator is a man born all but faceless: at birth his skin was like a chameleon's, and ever since he has been able to augment his features so that he is close to invisible. A woman shows up at his door one day, severely arrested emotionally (at about the five-year-old stage); and with this woman, Oriana, the narrator (who's gone on to be a photographer and, more, a blackmailer) falls into fascinated love (though there's a familial kicker about her identity). The ultimate drama of the book involves the chameleon-man's demand that a world-famous plastic surgeon hide Oriana by changing her face--hide her from political exigencies, it seems. That Dorfman is writing in part a political allegory seems clear enough; there are also plenty of the dubious Barthes-like media-context theories that Dorfman has addressed previously in his nonfiction. But what a reader largely takes away from here is the arch and often graceless prose: ""Doctor, there are no fairy godmothers. They don't exist. But stepmothers of your body, yes, there are those, Doctor, reconstructing at the moment of awakening our daily mask, defeating the truths that the night has permitted the brain to distill, our daily looks, amen."" Unnecessarily murky and overwrought.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
ISBN: 1583226419
Publisher: Viking