In this tragic coming-of-age tale, storytelling exalts, but also kills.
Fifteen-year-old Fabián, spoiled, orphaned, rebellious and cute, is a fabulist given to spinning yarns about shaman ancestors. Anti, asthmatic and timorous, is enthralled. And given debut novelist Scudamore’s narrative skill, so is the reader. Living with his surgeon uncle in 1990s Quito—home, according to Ecuadorian legend, of an Incan city in the clouds—Fabián’s a raffish show-off, capable of tying “knots in a capuli stalk with his tongue”; he’s also a charming liar. A born sidekick, Anti’s an ex-pat in flight from drab England with his journalist father and his mother, a psychologist studying mestizo culture. He worships Ecuador and Fabián, so much so that his parents threaten to return him to England’s duller, but more salubrious, air. Dazzling Fabián has his own sorrow; he weeps in secret over his parents. Drunk one night, he tells Anti of their demise: His father, after being gored in a bullfight, was being rushed to the hospital by his mother when the car crashed, his mother hurled from the wreck. Convinced she’s still alive, Fabián enlists Anti to join him in a cross-country trek—a final Ecuadorian idyll for the Brit and a chance for Fabián to search for his mother, secluded, he believes, in an amnesia clinic in the hills. Teenage runaway fantasies ensue as the boys embark—Fabián’s wild night in a brothel, Anti’s spicy initiation into the ways of love courtesy of Sally Lightfoot, a hippie adventuress who’s also a bounty hunter of whales. In an echo, perhaps a bit too reminiscent, of John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, golden-boy Fabián ends up the victim of his desperate belief in the power of myth-making and tale-telling to compensate for the disappointments of real life.
An effective blend of the magical and the creepy.