Lovers of stylish literary fiction will rejoice at this charming tale by Angolan writer Agualusa. The elegantly translated story is narrated by a house gecko named EulÃ¡lio, who in brief, vignette-like chapters, reminisces on his life (and past life) and observes the home of FÃ©lix Ventura, an albino Angolan who makes his living selling fabricated aristocratic pasts to newly successful citizens of the war-torn former Portuguese colony. Photojournalist JosÃ© Buchmann pushes FÃ©lix’s occupation into harsh reality when JosÃ© looks into the past FÃ©lix has created for him, and the story shudders to a climax when FÃ©lix’s allegedly fictitious history collides with reality. EulÃ¡lio is a lovable narrator, alternately sardonic and wistful; his dreams are filled with regret and powerlessness. FÃ©lix is an equally sympathetic subject, complicated by his loneliness, his fondness for prostitutes, his insistence on the honor of his trade despite its scalawag nature, and a late-blooming sweet love story. The novel’s themes of identity, truth and happiness are nicely handled and span both the political and the personal. It’s very touching, in a refined way.
In his entertaining second novel, Obie Award-winning playwright Rabe (In the Boom Boom Room ) presents an overly eventful day-in-the-life of two women in smalltown Iowa. Elderly Bernice Doorley is convinced that in the company of Reverend Tauke and his followers, she will be on her way to heaven that evening, which, according to the reverend, is when the rapture is due to arrive. Bernice’s main concern is who will take care of her beloved pets, particularly her old dog, General. On the outs with daughter Irma, Bernice turns to Janet Cawley, the eccentric daughter of her recently deceased friend, whose days revolve around jogging, drinking and sleeping with her married boyfriend. Bernice waits in her best outfit to be beamed up; Janet, meanwhile, has other adventures with a former student (she was a fourth-grade teacher). Serious topics like spirituality and mother-daughter relationships get an airing in this satire of American excess, but the proceedings end up increasingly contrived.