Arenas, for some years one of Cuba's most important unofficial writers, was cast out finally in the Mariel boat lift in 1980. This book, part of a multisegmented work, provides a sense of the outrage felt by serious Cuban intellectuals (especially those who also are homosexual, doubly pariahs), plus a taste of the still flourishing baroque tradition in Cuban fiction personified by such masters as Lezama-Lima and Cabrera-Infante. The novel is cloven in two. The initial part is a humid, bleak, horror-accumulating monologue, narrated by a young Cuban woman spending a few weeks at a beach cabin with her baby and deeply depressed poet-husband. Disillusion is a condensing fog over everything: ""Now that the--shall we say--fundamental problems are solved--house, food, car, salary--we can devote our full efforts to making life intolerable."" The husband's political depression, his complete alienation, ultimately plagues the young woman with a no-way-out despair. But the husband isn't merely a poet: he's also homosexual; and the book's second half, which mostly is in verse (the husband's poetry--a difficult translation job handled ably by Andrew Hurley), is at once mythic fantasy, dark satire (a brilliant set piece in which a prancy queen negotiates the streets of the new puritanical Havana), and a litany of sadness and anger. As poetry, it doesn't quite match in intensity the wife's prose section, the oblique mirroring there being more powerfully bleak; and too much of it rains a dandruff of campy literary gesture--yet, together, the two disparate pieces pretty much complement each other. By no means congenial, nor as intriguing finally as the book it most aspires to (Lezama Lima's masterpiece Paradiso), it's a work that still bears powerful witness to the continuing, adventurous elegance of Cuban writing.