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 Make it new, said Pound, and Dobyns always does: this account of four extraordinary weeks in the life of a large Chilean family, sheltering from a series of earthquakes, is his best novel yet. The Big One rocked southern Chile on May 22, 1960, to be followed by months of smaller quakes and tremors, mudslides and tsunamis. Four thousand people were killed; the moon turned blood-red; many believed the end of the world was at hand. The solidly bourgeois Droppelman family of Puerto Varas experiences convulsions of its own, culminating in scandal. The story is told by eight-year-old Lucy, whose father, a cattle merchant, is killed by a falling chimney brick; she and her two brothers take refuge in their grandparents' farmhouse. Lucy's grandmother is overjoyed by the quake, since she has all her brood under one roof; very much the controlling matriarch, she envisions them all dying and entering Heaven together. Ironically, the opposite will happen: they will survive, but fragmentedbecause the earthquake frees the adults from conventional restraints. Great-aunt Clotilde dresses up for Death in her sister's wedding gown; gluttonous Uncle Walterio steals his nephew's candy; Aunt Miriam is permanently tipsy. Uncles Hellmuth and Alcibiades, formerly best friends, fall out when Alcibiades becomes infatuated with Hellmuth's wife, a self-absorbed coquette; there is a bloody fistfight, and Alcibiades leaves town. Lucy herself, devastated by her rather's death, almost dies from a fever; her perspective is enriched by flash-forwards in which, 30 years later, the mature Lucy ponders the nature of memory and experience. Our often hapless attempts to control our lives are a common thread in Dobyns's work. But while Cold Dog Soup (1985) and The Two Deaths of Se§ora Puccini (1988) rested on outlandish premises, here Dobyns hits pay dirt with a credible situation that fits his preoccupations like a glove. In addition, little Lucy's beautifully modulated voice brings the hitherto missing ingredients of compassion and tenderness to this eccentric mÇnage.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-670-83914-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1991


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