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THE REEF by Juan Villoro


by Juan Villoro ; translated by Yvette Siegert

Pub Date: May 2nd, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-80760-021-4
Publisher: Braziller

A powerful morality tale with laughs.

This is award-winning Mexican writer Villoro's first novel to be translated into English. While his story collection, The Guilty (2015), displayed his postmodernist leanings, this novel, originally published in 2012, showcases his edgy black humor and absurdist side. Meet Tony Góngora, our laid-back, heavy-drinking narrator, a 53-year-old former rock musician. (Picture a Mexican sort-of version of the Dude, Jeff Bridges' character from The Big Lebowski.) He's lost part of a finger and limps, and due to extensive drug use, he's also lost part of his memory, which he’s trying to get back. He builds and runs underwater sound systems for aquariums at The Pyramid resort in Kukulcán, on the Caribbean coast. It and other resorts, now vacant, rise up “along the shore like vertical mausoleums, circled by seagulls and ravaged by plants and rats.” The sand’s washing away. Oil rigs and city water have contaminated the sea and are now threatening “the second-largest coral reef in the world.” Thanks to manager Mario Müller, Tony’s friend and fellow ex–band member, and investor El Gringo Peterson, The Pyramid is hanging on because of its unique tourist offerings. Now a “Sodom with piña coladas,” it provides “extreme tourism.” Guests can experience “recreational paranoia” like fake kidnappings and other controlled dangers. Tony has the hots for Sandra, an illegal immigrant from Iowa who works there as a yoga/kung fu instructor. Then Ginger Oldenville, one of the resort’s diving instructors, turns up dead—shot in the back with a spear gun. In this warped utopia, the death loomed “like the black cloud of an approaching hurricane.” Villoro mixes genres (noirish murder mystery, eco-thriller) to fashion a wickedly satirical romp of Mexico as a “country of enormous delusions.” But that’s not all. It’s also a thoughtful tale of friendship and love.

A zesty tale that balances darkness and light with aplomb.