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CARACOL BEACH by Eliseo Alberto

CARACOL BEACH

By Eliseo Alberto (Author) , Edith Grossman (Translator)

Pub Date: May 16th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40540-2
Publisher: Knopf

Arbitrary whimsy and narrative fireworks are the order of two tense days in June in a hitherto sleepy Florida resort (the title town)—in this heavy-breathing 1998 novel by Cuban journalist and poet Alberto.

It goes sort of like this. “Beto” Milanes, a Cuban combat soldier who served during the war in Angola (“a psychopath who talked endlessly about Bengal tigers, African leopards, blowflies in the air and military ambushes . . . ,” among other things), and who has tried and failed to kill himself, takes three college kids prisoner and forces them at gunpoint to commit violent acts of vandalism, preparatory to offing him. Constable Sam Ramos, likewise a veteran of multiple military campaigns (and linked, as we learn, to Milanes), must deal with these annoyances as well as his gay transvestite son Nelson's unruly misbehavior at the Bastille bar and relationship with his Armenian lover Tigran Androsian (reputedly “afraid of chickens”: don't even ask). A hot-blooded hooker and a tireless neighborhood busybody make Sam's life even more miserable. If that weren't enough already, flashbacks to the three students' relationships at their Manhattan college reveal further sexual and other behavioral particulars and permutations—as do Beto's hallucinatory identity crisis and deranged memories of his roundheeled mother, “Caterina the Great.” In case we've missed anything, Alberto thoughtfully provides a concluding Appendix that gives us more information about his 30 or so significant characters, and a Chronology of “The Facts in the Case” compiled by the exhausted Constable Ramos. This seems tantamount to admitting that many readers will finish the book still wondering exactly what's going on.

Whether or not these characters grip us, we certainly understand their phlegmatic fatalism, encapsulated in the recurring sentence “God must know why the hell he does what he does.” Presumably, Alberto does too, but you'd never know it from Caracol Beach.