Thursday Night Widows-Claudia Piñeiro
Novel, in translation
"In an exclusive gated community 30 miles outside of Buenos Aires, Maria Virginia works as a real-estate agent after her husband loses his job. Readers gradually become acquainted with the rich families of the Heights through Maria, who is privy to their secrets, selling them their homes while living in the community herself. But she is always a bit of an outsider, one of the few women who work, and when the bodies of three of the most prominent men in the community are found dead in a neighbor’s backyard pool, she must decide where her loyalties lie, since her husband was visiting the three men shortly before their deaths. A fast-paced thriller, Piñeiro’s novel describes and critiques the lifestyles of Argentina’s nouveau riche, chronicling their rise into the exclusive world of the Heights and their downfalls as the economy sours after 9/11."
I skimmed a few reviews after I read this and many of them complained that as a mystery/thriller this book failed. I was expecting a “psychological portrait of a middle class living beyond its means” exactly as it says on the back and that's what I got. After the first chapter, even though you don't really know why these three men ended up dead at the bottom of pool, any idea that this is a typical mystery is pretty much thrown out the window as the chatty prose goes from the beginning of when Virginia/Mavi and Ronie move to The Cascades. This is not a crime novel per say, because it's never clear that a crime has occurred.
As a portrait of a luxurious upper middle class built on the shakiest foundations, this is brilliant. It's set in Argentina, and some of the problems are very Argentine but the majority is very universal. I say Argentine because it always seems like economic instabilities run through faster there; we have recessions, they have downfalls. But there is also the emphasis that as the upper middle class, it is expected to go to school in English, not Spanish. The thing about housing developments that impose stringent rules about conformity is that there will always be secrets. Putting so much pressure to conform to this idea of luxury will always cause fractures within the actual reality and the projected reality which is why residents at The Cascades so often reported losing all social ties to the outside world. This outside world also means nature such as when Virginia notes that it is a plus that maintenance removes all traces of storms from the properties so that “we may wonder if the gale really took place or belongs in a dream.” Maintaining the facade is easier within a community of people who are all maintaining a facade rather than also having to convince others who may be jealous or the like.
This anxiety flows through the entire novel. They are obsessed with security mainly because their own security is an illusion. For instance, Virginia notes that every single individual on the grounds are completely and thoroughly vetted with background checks and thus “no one is a stranger”. While you can argue that if no one is a stranger then you can trust everyone, I'd say that Piñeiro later makes a good point that this trust is that no one will actively violate your illusion rather than true trust by demonstrating how the disciplinary committee which takes the place of governmental law works. The Cascades is definitely not a trusting community and as such shows the typical fears of the poor (the nearby village of Santa María de los Tigrecitos where most of the workers live is only good for driving through), Jews (a big deal is made of exceptions), foreigners from other countries or dark-skinned people (one such servant is accused of encouraging a breakdown in one of their own), bats or weasels, and those who do not adhere to the gender expectations (like the youngest characters focused on in this book). This book is a thorough, almost dissecting, portrait of everything that a middle class wants, desires, and loses. Really not to be missed.g
I did have issues with what I presume must been a translation-calling the housing development a country club really jarred. At least in NJ, those kinds of developments are usually called luxury communities or simply gated communities. There was also a strange refusal to name the second (or third?) narrator. The main narrator was clearly Virginia but there were whole chapters written in the same prose style but clearly not by Virginia. I understand wanting to vary the viewpoint but why refuse to name your other narrators when you've so clearly invested in Virginia-as-narrator? Other Latin American authors use allegorical and magical realistic devices that would be out of place here but nevertheless echoes Piñeiro's change of narrators.
Read for the GWC challenge.