LOS GUSANOS by John Sayles

LOS GUSANOS

KIRKUS REVIEW

 With that Spanish title (translation: The Worms), and his liberal use of Spanish dialogue, Sayles is paying homage to the Cuban milieu of his first novel since Union Dues: a long, broken journey, starting in Miami, then weaving back through Batista's Cuba, Castro's Cuba, and Guatemala (training-ground for the Bay of Pigs Brigade). Miami, 1981. A Cuban-American kid, working for rapprochement with Havana, is shot dead on the street. A 30-ish woman called Marta, a devout Catholic, is rejected by an anti-Castro terrorist group. Does this sound like a political suspenser from Graham Greene or Robert Stone? No such luck: the kid's murder is quickly forgotten, and Marta is eclipsed for long stretches. She's the daughter of a wealthy rancher in pre-Castro Cuba (now dying in a Miami nursing-home) and the younger sister of Blas, disillusioned leftist turned drug-dealer, and Ambrosio, a starry-eyed poet killed at the Bay of Pigs. The closest we get to a storyline is Marta's fanatical determination to mark the 20th anniversary of Ambrosio's death by executing his original mission (blowing up a power station). Her need for guns and explosives leads her to the sinister El Halcon, once a torturer for Batista, now tracking oddballs like Marta, under orders from CIA agent Walt (another piece of slime). Unbeknownst to Marta, it was El Halcon (then too under CIA orders) who killed her brother; those corrupted by power will always feed on the idealistic, regardless of their ``revolutionary'' or ``freedom-lover'' labels. There's an implicit nihilism here, but rather than fan it into a unifying vision, Sayles gets hung up on particular horrors (Walt's perfidies, Castro's prisons); he neglects the forest for the trees, and after these binges has no energy left for the finish-a predictably tragic outcome for Marta's mission. So all we have is the makings of a big book-and the distressing waste of a prodigious talent.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1991
ISBN: 0-06-016653-3
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1991




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