A bitter skeptic sets out to kill his father but ends up a saint’s reluctant agent in this whimsical Brazilian import.
Samuel comes to the moribund town of Candeia on a mission: not the pious pilgrimage of his mother’s dying wish but vengeance on the family that deserted them. After being robbed, starved, and attacked by dogs, he takes refuge in the hollow head of an unfinished monolith of St. Anthony, the failed tourist attraction blamed for the town’s woes. Inexplicably, Samuel can hear prayers addressed to the saint; he mischievously sets out to answer them, quickly gaining fame (and fortune) as a wonder-working matchmaker. But not everybody is happy with the “miracles” or the prosperity that follows, for behind Candeia’s poverty are dark secrets of corruption, betrayal, and murder. The influence of Acioli’s mentor, Gabriel García Márquez, shows in the lyrical language, earthy, surreal imagery, and dreamlike, mystical atmosphere. Unfortunately, the characterization is maddeningly elliptical; Samuel modulates from pure rage and spite to cynical (if good-hearted) meddling to purification through romantic yearning, for no evident reason. The remaining characters (especially the shallow, stereotypical women) simply blur together. Then, as ruthlessly as any villain, the plot abruptly abandons the plight of St. Anthony, Candeia, and its inhabitants to run off with Samuel toward a sickly sentimental finale.
Intriguing and occasionally arresting but ultimately unsatisfying. (Magical realism. 12-16)