Wednesday, April 21, 2010

REVIEW: The Halfway House, by Guillermo Rosales

The Halfway House, by Guillermo Rosales. Published 2009 by New Directions. Literary Fiction. Translation.

The Halfway House is a staggering short novel by Cuban writer Guillermo Rosales, and one of his only surviving, published works. A gifted writer who committed suicide in Miami in 1993, Rosales' book was first published to high praise in Europe and appears in English for the first time in this edition, translated by Anna Kushner.

Clocking in at just over 100 pages, the story is about a middle-aged man, a writer named William Figueras, living in a boarding house for the mentally ill and disabled. The house is nominally in Miami, though it seems to be located in a less-trafficked corner of Hell, where all manner of mistreatment and humiliation occur on a daily basis. Residents aren't fed enough, they live in squalor, and fights and sexual abuse are commonplace. The owner steals their money, and the staff are sadistic and unchallengeable. Dumped there by relatives unable or unwilling to care for them, there is no recourse, and no escape. William knows how wrong and how intolerable the conditions are, and plans an escape with Frances, a fellow inmate and woman with whom he shares a budding romance.

It's a heartbreaking, challenging, disturbing work, and unfortunately probably not that far off from reality- and I can't say it has a happy ending. It's also a beautiful piece of literature, with vivid, sad characters and more suspense than you might think could be packed between its covers. It would be a wonderful choice for the reader of literary fiction looking for something a little edgy and a little different, or for readers interested in issues of the mentally ill. It may not make you smile but it may change the way you look at the world- and what more can a book do than that?

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.