Newcomer Reding chronicles extended and disturbing trips to Chilean Patagonia to visit a gaucho and his family.
Though rumor had it that the gauchos of Patagonia were a dead breed, Reding encountered them while working at a remote fly-fishing camp that came into existence only after a road was pushed far into the wild Chilean south on the orders of Pinochet. On the camp grounds live Duck and Edith, a gaucho and his long-suffering wife, and their three children. Because of gaucho hospitality, Reding all but imposes himself upon Duck and Edith, staying in a tent on the ranch—a vast place with an absentee owner—and partaking of their life. Writing in a voice that often sounds unmoored by this otherworld, Reding relates his days driving cattle with Duck and tells about Edith’s life with the children, citing the frustrations of each (Duck’s wanting to move to town and a more exciting life, Edith’s dealing with her devil of a husband when he gets drunk, which is often). Reding also tells their stories (in some of the most stunning sentences here: “Doesn’t take the president to know a brown egg out of a rooster’s ass ain’t right,” says a young girl) and offers impressions of the daunting landscape and “crushing immediacy” of the isolation. This is an angry and confused world (Reding’s life is threatened—by Duck, among others—a number of times), particularly now that the road has come to tempt people away. Duck and Edith ultimately end up in town, and, inevitably, things fall apart from there. But readers know in advance that no good will come of this story, for Reding wears his discomfort on his sleeve, offering a fog of hangovers, bad dreams, and life’s ragged edge.
Patagonia Apocalyptica. Grim and hopeless in a last great, wild place.