Beguiling, odd story of what happens to a small town when death pays an unexpected visit.
Vidreres isn’t much of a town, a forgettable spot after a blind hill that opens onto a striking view of the “luminous teeth of the Pyrenees.” Like the spectral village at the center of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, it’s full of ghosts—but also the usual human preoccupations of sex, power, betrayal, poverty, the sight of money moving “between men like a gust of wind.” Catalan author Sala makes this tiny place his own, populating it with a cast that revolves around two unfortunate dead teenagers, Jaume and Xavi Batlle, whose little Peugeot goes flying off into a tree one fateful Saturday. The crash that kills the youngsters is a mystery, though one villager, better educated than most, speculates that it’s no accident; as he tells a brawling truck driver who’s no stranger to mayhem, “A lot of accidents are suicides and no one realizes.” Sometimes an accident is just an accident, true, but this “death that doesn’t let death live” changes the lives of everyone in Vidreres. One is Iona, a teenage girl who might easily have been in the car with the boys had she accepted Jaume’s invitation to go with them that evening; now she’s left to wrestle with survivor’s guilt, because while a big-city girl might have gone to a psychiatrist or grief counselor, “in Vidreres, because of the way Vidreres was, she would have to deal with it herself.” Tough guy Miqui is no exception: he bluffs and blusters, but he’s touched, too, as is the milquetoast bank manager whose great act of midlife-crisis reconciliation is to sneak out to see a hooker and then ponder the consequences: “Had the dead boys been released from inside him, during his orgasm?” It's a fruitful question, one of many that Sala poses.
A compelling existential mystery, on one level a sort of Catalan answer to Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter, with a closing as haunting as a tale by Poe. Altogether brilliant.