A frustrated gravedigger uses his unique gifts to keep his family together in this first novel.
Juan Rodrigo is accustomed to being an outcast. Because of his profession, which was passed down to him by his father, he is both literally and figuratively relegated to the outskirts of his tiny Andalucían town. At the same time, though, the town relies on Juan Rodrigo to not only bury the dead, but also to share their posthumous stories (however unpopular they may be), as the gravedigger is the only one who can communicate with ghosts. (Conveniently, though, with the exception of a little girl, the ghosts seem only to appear when they’re needed to further a plotline.) The light of Juan Rodrigo’s life is his adolescent daughter, Esperanza, who, with her curiosity and penchant for speaking her mind, seems to be following in her father’s lonely footsteps. But as she fights for her independence and falls in love with a mysterious gypsy boy, Antonio, her father is desperate to rein her back in. Esperanza must choose whether to follow Antonio’s ambition and move with him to the city, or to obey her father and succumb to the inexplicable pull that the town seems to have on her. Meanwhile, Juan Rodrigo seeks advice and eventually solace from the dead as he tries to guide his daughter on what he believes is the right path. The best parts of this meandering tale are the moments of comic relief (provided, in part, by Juan Rodrigo’s smut-talking dead mother), but those come infrequently.
Grandbois delivers all the requisite elements of magical realism but adds nothing new.