Shantytown

Shantytown

by César Aira
     
 

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At last, a noir novel from the Argentine master of suspense and surprises
Maxi, a middle-class, directionless ox of a young man who helps the trash pickers of Buenos Aires’s shantytown, attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman who will use anyone — including two innocent teenage girls — to break a drug ring that he believes is

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Overview

At last, a noir novel from the Argentine master of suspense and surprises
Maxi, a middle-class, directionless ox of a young man who helps the trash pickers of Buenos Aires’s shantytown, attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman who will use anyone — including two innocent teenage girls — to break a drug ring that he believes is operating within the slum. A strange new drug, a brightly lit carousel of a slum, the kindness of strangers, gunplay... no matter how serious the subject matter, and despite Aira’s “fascination with urban violence and the sinister underside of Latin American politics” (The Millions), Shantytown, like all of Aira’s mesmerizing work, is filled with wonder and mad invention.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/28/2013
This disappointing potboiler by the acclaimed author of The Hare and Varamo introduces Maxi, a muscular and dimwitted young man who spends his nights in a Buenos Aires shantytown helping trash pickers carry away their finds. Pitted against him is Deputy Inspector Cabezas, a cop looking for a way to crack open a drug ring, and who may or may not be the father of Cynthia, a young woman recently murdered. When Cabezas's attention is drawn toward Maxi, he uses Maxi's sister, Vanessa, and her friend, Jessica, to track Maxi down in an attempt to discover who is bringing the drugs into the nighborhood. In concise chapters, Aira takes us through each character's point of view, giving the reader a glimpse into their psyches, but slow pacing, random side plots, and a lack of resolution make it difficult to care. There are flashes of wonderful writing here, as when a torrential rainstorm gives Aira the chance to describe the shantytown and its lights poetically, and a murder that will take the reader by surprise, but neither is enough to compensate for the sluggish trek toward the end. (Nov.)
Los Angeles Review of Books
“Aira's literary significance, like that of many other science fiction writers, comes from how he pushes us to question the porous line between fact and fantasy, to see it not only as malleable in history, but also blurred in the everyday. The engrossing power of his work, though, comes from how he carries out these feats: with the inexhaustible energy and pleasure of a child chasing after imaginary enemies in the park.”
Booklist
“Depending on how you read it, this is either a taut noir crime novel or a searing portrait of Buenos Aires' poverty-stricken people. Either way, it's compelling stuff.”
The New York Review of Books - Michael Greenberg
“Dense, unpredictable confections delivered in a plain, stealthily lyrical style capable of accommodating his fondness for mixing metaphysics, realism, pulp fiction, and Dadaist incongruities.”
The New York Times - Natasha Wimmer
“Aira is one of the most provocative and idiosyncratic novelists working in Spanish today, and should not be missed.”
Michael Greenberg - The New York Review of Books
“Dense, unpredictable confections delivered in a plain, stealthily lyrical style capable of accommodating his fondness for mixing metaphysics, realism, pulp fiction, and Dadaist incongruities.”
Natasha Wimmer - The New York Times
“Aira is one of the most provocative and idiosyncratic novelists working in Spanish today, and should not be missed.”
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-05
A tiny slice of Buenos Aires noir from one of Argentina's most prolific writers. An improvisational mood propels this novella-length story by Aira (The Hare, 2013, etc.), with crisp translation by Andrews. The book is set amid the trash district of Buenos Aires' slum settlements and concerns itself with the intersection of a number of characters. The first, Maxi, is a boxy, middle-class adolescent with his own Rolex who passes his days helping scavengers collect cardboard and other detritus for pocket change. He claims to have a curious form of night blindness that more closes resembles a darkness-triggered form of narcolepsy. Maxi's sister is Vanessa, a generally harmless girl who runs with a bad crowd. She comes under the influence of Inspector Ignacio Cabezas, a corrupt cop who wants to infiltrate the ranks of a drug sales operation known to locals as "the carousel" and gains Vanessa's trust by pretending to be the father of a girl from her school who was killed in a random shooting. The drug in question is an invention called proxidine, a powerful hallucinogenic that nearly kills a friend of Vanessa's. What seems to be interesting to Aira is the confluence of events that seems random but isn't, as he describes the lusty detective: "His mistake was thinking that a battle is fought at a single point in space," he writes. "That is not the case. A battle always covers a large area, and none of the participants can take it in at a glance, not even retrospectively. Nobody can grasp the whole, because in reality there is no whole to be grasped." Aira's work, like the fantasy How I Became a Nun (2007), is usually much more fantastic, so it's an interesting exercise to see the author playing with mystery conventions in a more realistic, if cinematic, style. A very literary crime story with South American attitude that is lean, spare and resonant.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780811219112
Publisher:
New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
11/20/2013
Pages:
128
Sales rank:
737,744
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author

Nominated for a Neustadt Award and shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, César Aira was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, in 1949. He has published at least ninety books.

The poet Chris Andrewsteaches at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where he is a member of the Writing and Society Research Center. He has translated books by Roberto Bolaño and César Aira for New Directions.

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