The second novel (after Singing from the Well, 1987) in a five-volume sequence by Cuban-born Arenas is like some baroque extravaganza where more is always too much, and less would do the job--and more effectively. Set in a poor and remote area of Cuba where the struggle between the Castro-led rebels and the government has affected the lives of all, the story concerns a young man's search for meaning and a refuge amidst the horror. The young boy Fortunate, whose mother has fled to the US to make money to support her son, lives with his aunts and grandparents. Death real and personified is everywhere--it appears in the guise of a plantain; it plays with a bicycle wheel in the backyard; and the form of a dead cousin haunts the family. Meanwhile, the aunts are frustrated with their lives and act in bizarre ways. One has been abandoned by her husband; one mourns her dead daughter, and a third, the virginal Adolfina, as the war draws even closer and bombs fall, frantically seeks a man, any man. To escape from his family and the horrors, of the war, Fortunate retreats into a dream world full of all the usual tricks and trademarks of magic realism--dead bodies talk; humans turn into birds; and he visits the great palace of the white skunks with his dead cousin. But reality inevitably intrudes, and all the symbolic horrors Fortunato has imagined have their equally terrible real-life counterparts. Death triumphs. Often lyrical, and rich in imagery and insight, but nonetheless overloaded with dream sequences, literary games (there is a short play included at the end), and messages, the same ones frequently repeated. The horror is all but lost--which is too bad.