A novel about a band of metaphorical brothers (and sisters and lovers) whose social life centers around an empanada kiosk in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.
Nichols (The Voice of the Butterfly, 2001, etc.) seems intent on collecting a group of strangely eccentric and self-consciously goofy characters, brought together more by loneliness than by their love for empanadas. The narrator is “blondie,” one of the only non-Latinos of the group, a shy and sexually inexperienced young writer, washing dishes at the Night Owl Café, penning novels (the robber-baron novel, the Bowery Bum tale, the college romance) and, not surprisingly, collecting rejection slips. He falls desperately in love with Cathy Escudero, a high-strung flamenco dancer from Argentina, who’s accompanied, literally, by Jorge, a 17-year-old prodigy on the guitar. At the center of things is Àureo Roldán, empanada cook extraordinaire. While he has the patience of a long-suffering bartender, he also has trouble staying a step ahead of greasing the palms of a bagman for the local Puerto Rican mob. On the periphery are the true oddballs: Luigi, whose face has been hideously deformed by fire; Alfonso, a mathematical genius from Argentina, who’s trying to decide which of two fiancées to marry; Chuy, a rich, one-handed gigolo; Eduardo and Adriana, an on-again, off-again couple, each determined to cuckold the other; Popeye, a tattooed sailor who drives a diaper truck and is reputedly an inexhaustible lover. You get the picture. Cathy, the flamenco dancer, has the greatest insight into the meaning of the kiosk: “That empanada stand is a silly place…. It’s a club for little boys to hang out in who don’t want to grow up.” Now there’s one character who speaks the truth.
The human energy swirling around the empanada stand is full of sound and fury but signifies very little.