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More challenging fiction from the gifted author of The Witness (not reviewed). The plot is simple: A horse killer is afoot in Argentina; Cat cares for a beige horse in order to protect it; Cat and Elisa have an affair. But the book is not simple. Saer's habitually dense prose seems almost clotted: Many scenes are described more than once, sometimes from different points of view, sometimes merely rephrased slightly -- often in excruciating detail, as if more truth could be found by repeatedly examining one brief moment than by stringing events together into a narrative. This surfeit of detail slows the story down until the present is ""as wide as the whole of time is long,"" and an overdose of realism creates a surreal atmosphere. Cat and Elisa are graphically described making love, but we learn little about how they feel toward each other. When Saer writes about the horses' deaths he shifts gears and the narrative moves briskly enough. A few side characters, such as a ruthless chief of police, seem to operate in real time, but the story always returns to the beige horse and a molasses pace. It's hard work digesting these moments, even when the author dangles the suggestion of an epiphany to come. One minor character, a beach attendant, has an experience that closely mimics what readers are likely to feel. While floating in the river to set an endurance record for remaining in the water (three days or so), he notices that the light on the river is fragmented, made up of many separate points rather than one ray. This throws him into an existential funk from which he never recovers. A negative epiphany, then, in which meaning is lost. Saer seems to be struggling to illuminate metaphysical themes through physical description, as he did so superbly in The Witness. Here, alas, he conveys only murk.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: High Risk/Serpent's Tail -- dist. by Consortium