Gilvarry’s debut gracefully tackles politically charged subject matter, acknowledging the validity of the terrorist threat as well as the danger of stereotyping and fear-mongering. In 2002, Boyet Hernandez moves from Manila to New York with dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer. Four years later, he almost does just that, earning the name “Fashion Terrorist” after being arrested by Homeland Security and taken to Guantánamo, accused of war crimes that were part of a terrorist plot. As he is relentlessly questioned, Boyet shares the story of his life in—and “unrequited love for”—America, recounting the years leading up to his imprisonment with wit and compassion, curious as to where he went wrong. As an immigrant struggling to make ends meet, he accepted help from gangsters and men on international watch lists. However, he also socialized with the city’s fashion elite, raising the question of how guilty one is by association. Like his idol Coco Chanel (arrested in 1943 for her Nazi ties), Boyet is thrust into a public spectacle of good and evil. An engaging victim of uncertain times, he’s a protagonist who will appeal to readers of all political persuasions. (Jan.)
Delicious . . . A left-handed love letter to America.”
—Daniel Asa Rose, The New York Times Book Review
“Lively . . . Hilarious . . . [This] whirligig of a book draws some striking parallels between the way we mythologize stars and the way we look at terrorists.”
—John Freeman, The Boston Globe
“It's rare for a novel to tread so fearlessly into the political and yet to emerge so deeply funny and humane. Gilvarry is a young talent on the rise. Watch him gallop through the mess we’ve made of our civilization with style and panache.”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Absurdistan
“The deepest intelligence is poetic, incisive and inordinately funny. Heads up, folks. Alex Gilvarry just walked through the door.”
—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin and Zoli
“Finally, a young American novelist who has the guts to confront the absurdity of the last decade. Gilvarry has given us a sly, hilarious, and wickedly insightful book about living in the United States (or trying to live in the U.S.) in the aftermath of September 11th. Fashion, terrorism, New York and Guantanamo Bay: in the hands of Gilvarry, hilarity ensues. A brilliant debut.”
—Michael Hastings, author of The Operators
A would-be fashion mogul comes to America to pursue the American Dream, only to wind up wearing an orange Gitmo jumpsuit. Gilvarry's debut novel aspires to be an allegory about how immigrant ambition has become stifled in the wake of post-9/11 paranoia. The narrator, Boyet Hernandez, arrives in New York City from the Philippines in 2002, eager to pursue a career in haute couture. But the reader knows immediately that his dreams were dashed: The novel is written in the form of a prison memoir, composed at the suggestion of his jailers as he awaits judgment from a military tribunal for allegedly consorting with terrorists. Chapters begin with observations about the camp's cramped quarters and barely humane regulations, but the story mostly focuses on Boyet (nicknamed Boy) as he makes his slow rise in the fashion world, consorting with models, begging for favors from established designers and hustling for financing. That last effort is what gets him in trouble, because his main patron is a sketchy landlord who possesses a questionable amount of weaponize-able fertilizer. Gilvarry keeps the tone of the story lightly satirical without diminishing the seriousness of Boy's predicament, and he skillfully captures the frenetic world of striving designers and Brooklyn hipsters. The novel's chief flaws have more to do with structure than tone. Characters in the story besides Boy rarely become more than strictly functional (a publicist with the unfortunate name of Ben Laden is a thin signifier of law-enforcement ineptitude), and shifting between Boy's incarceration and Manhattan memories grows repetitive and undramatic until the closing pages. A fashion writer's faux annotations add little, and his afterword closes the book on a melodramatic note that clashes with Boy's character. Gilvarry is a talented writer and observer, but the satirical elements could have been better tailored.
The disjunction between Gitmo and Prada is too delicious not to put a sideways smile on your face. You'll also be twisting a lip upward at the Bellowesque brio of Gilvarry's language…In many ways, this novel is a left-handed love letter to America. Whether describing New York's subway system…or the Bronxville campus of Sarah Lawrence …Gilvarry shows that he cherishes a country he clearly feels is at risk.
The New York Times Book Review
Sharply written and wryly witty, touching on the sensitivities and paranoia of post-9/11 America...Combining a Kafkaesque hero with a captivating "coming to New York" story, Gilvarry's debut is a timely and touching triumph.
Aspiring hopeful Boyet Hernandez just about has it made in the New York fashion world with his (B)oy label when he's detained late one night and taken to Gitmo, where he's accused of terrorist connections. He's also handed a Quran—never mind that Hernandez is an ex-Catholic from Manila. There's some good noise about this debut from Gilvarry, editor of the website Tottenville Review, so pay careful attention.