Donoso (The Obscure Bird of Night) works with elements of fantasy, corrective political allegory, horror, and plain sumptuousness. All these are generously in place here, and all are as difficult to reconcile as ever. The Venturas are a large South American (Chilean, presumably) clan, bastioned on an estate; their lifestyle is paid for by the extensive family gold holdings around them, resources mined and processed by the natives who live beyond the estate's gate-of-lances. And these lances are sharp and voluminous--because the Venturas believe that the natives are cannibals. (Read: Communists.) Furthermore, this mythological assumption is pressed on the next generation of Venturas, the 33 young cousins who live on the estate, with help from the servants (the military?). The children, however, are not so easily persuaded: they are bright, imaginative, freedom-thirsty; they play elaborate games which give them ideas of utopian structures far different than that of the parents--who every year take off to an adults-only, Cythera-like vacation spot, Marulanda. So one year, when the adults are off on their idyll in Marulanda (which may not really exist at all), the cousins actually take over--only to be met by brutal opposition from the servants, the returning parents. . . and foreign investors in the Ventura gold. Donoso's political allegory is relatively pointed: one immured adult, the outcast doctor Adriano Gomara, is killed by the servants--and seems to represent Salvador Allende. There are striking evocations of the twitty adults (their privilege and paranoia), the elegant children, the patient and canny ""cannibals,"" the hothouse atmospheres and macabre situations. But, if the closed-system of this fictional world is rich and often powerful, it can also be suffocating and baffling: a densely packed parable, crammed with fantasy and political symbolism, with limited yet definite appeal.