Sturm und Drang on the pampas.
Argentinian fiction writer and poet Almada makes her English-language debut with a slender tale redolent of Flannery O’Connor—and, at some turns, Rod Serling. An itinerant preacher, one of those hands-on, evil-spirits-out kind, is on the road with his 16-ish daughter, her mother a long-distant memory in the rear-view mirror. The daughter, Leni, is full of doubts, sheltering herself with a music player on which she’s promised dad to “listen to Christian music, nothing else,” but instead has been catching hints of the bigger world outside. When their car breaks down, the Rev. Pearson and Leni wind up in El Gringo Brauer’s garage. If the Rev. is a fire-and-brimstone true believer, Brauer is just as dedicated an atheist: “Religion was for women and the weak,” he thinks. Meanwhile, his assistant, a motherless boy about Leni’s age named Tapioca, is proving susceptible to the preacher’s blandishments. “Now he was thinking that perhaps he should have warned the kid about the stories in the Bible,” thinks Brauer—since, after all, “It wouldn’t be so easy to get that stuff about God out of his head.” If Leni would just as soon be dancing to disco music, Tapioca is ready to follow the Rev. Pearson out of the backwater and see the world, joining the crusade. Brauer objects, naturally. Well, what are the angels of good and evil supposed to do? Wrestle with each other, of course, in an apocalyptic rainstorm of a kind that levels crops, knocks down power poles, and fries someone with righteous lightning. Almada’s story, fueled by alcohol, religious symbolism, and doubt, feels a touch incomplete; she might have given a little more space to the things that make each character tick. Still, the story packs a punch in its portraits of a man who exalts heaven and another who protests, “I don’t have time for that stuff” while confused youngsters watch and wait.
A welcome new voice in Latin American storytelling.