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At Night We Walk in Circles: A Novel Hardcover – October 31, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2013: A young man, hopelessly in love with his ex-girlfriend, lands a part in a revival of a controversial political drama. He journeys with his childhood hero, the playwright, through tiny towns scattered along the sparsely-populated mountainside. This hardly seems like the normal territory of a thriller but At Night We Walk in Circles delivers suspense to spare with tightly-written narratives, modern phrasing, and crisp character studies by Peruvian-born author Daniel Alarcón. Told through the eyes of a narrator who sprinkles in knowing tidbits about the ultimate fate of the young man, the story builds in momentum while simultaneously taking quiet forays into a world of dashed dreams, complex family obligations, and everyday dilemmas that are relatable even when set in an unnamed, Latin American metropolis or an eerily empty village. At Night We Walk in Circles pointedly delves into universal themes: life as merely a series of performances and small gestures that have inexplicable consequences. Like moths to a flame, it's the desire to blindly follow that will ultimately lead to our downfall. --Bora McAteer
From Publishers Weekly
In Alarcón's (Lost City Radio) novel, Nelson is a young actor living in a nameless Latin American country. He is happy to learn that he has been selected to join Diciembre, a guerrilla theatre troupe. He will be performing in a politically incendiary play called The Idiot President. Accompanying him is the playwright, Henry Nuñez, who was jailed for the original production. Nelson says goodbye to his widowed mother and his girlfriend, Ixta, and embarks on his theatrical journey. In one town, Henry pays a visit to the family of his former cellmate and lover, Rogelio, and commits an incredible faux pas, which presents Nelson with the opportunity to play the part of a lifetime. He eventually returns to the city, where he finds that Ixta is pregnant by his rival, Mindo. What follows is a series of misunderstandings that leads to the book's final, ironic act. Nelson's story is told by an unnamed narrator whose intrusions telegraph that the protagonist's story might not end well. Much of the book reads like a needlessly protracted warm-up for Nelson's coup de thétre, and what follows is too melodramatic for the reader to take entirely seriously. Still, Alarcón recreates the tense atmosphere of what it is like to live in a country where words have consequences. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Nov.)
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Top Customer Reviews
My first impression is that At Night We Walk in Circles is the type of multilayered book that an English major could painstakingly dissect and then gleefully churn out pages and pages exploring literary device use and the underlying purpose and meaning of every story element. I will admit that I am a former English major, but, currently in the midst of writing research papers for grad school, I don't have the energy to be writing the lengthy literary analysis this book deserves and will be basing this review/rating on the novel's entertainment value.
The novel is about the life of Nelson, an aspiring actor and playwright, who lands a role in a touring theater troupe lead by his role model. Not an exciting premise by itself, but there were a few things that kept me reading: The narrator is unknown (until the last quarter of the novel), and pieced together the events that lead to Nelson's fate through interviews with his friends and family and from his abandoned journals. I was motivated to keep reading to find out who the narrator was and what had inspired them to investigate and retell Nelson's story. By the end, something significant and worthy of story-telling does indeed happen to Nelson, and, throughout the novel, the narrator drops hints that this something was not a good thing, maintaining a sense of apprehension that kept me turning the pages. The touring theater plotline takes an unexpected and unfortunate turn, which sets in motion the events that lead to Nelson's ironic and surreal downfall.
Overall, Nelson and the supporting characters were well fleshed out and interesting to follow. I found that I grew to care about Nelson enough that I felt pretty bad about what happens to him, and I continued to ponder over his life and fate even after I was done reading. The author's (Daniel Alarcon) writing is richly detailed and flows smoothly. While not urgently paced, the novel does have a relaxed momentum and was an enjoyable, engrossing read that I finished in a few sittings.
A bit more than the first half of the novel chronicles the relationship of the three players and their performances before rural audiences, most of whom have no idea what a theater or a play is.
Early on, the reader learns that Nelson had an intense love relationship in prison with someone named Rogelio, and when in the vicinity of Rogelio's native village, Henry veers there and visits Rogelio's family. Surprises start cascading there and I don't want to be guilty of plot-spoilers, but can say that role engulfment (the collapse of the role distance which has already not been understand by audience members along the way) ensues in a quite Pirandellian situation.
Who the narrator -- who has assiduously interviewed witnesses of the second Diciembre tour, including surviving members of the troupe, and who has Nelson's diary -- is gradually emerges. There is considerable foreshadowing of disaster, though not the one I expected.
I do not see any gain from obscuring the location of the story to an unnamed country that is Perú in all but name. And I think the novel could have been trimmed down, but having read it on a long flight was content to be enthralled by the tale(s). I felt a bit let down by the sly ending and wonder how others will react to it.
Personally, I would pass and go on to the next choice. Don't spend a lot of time agonizing over whether to read this one or not.