No four leaf clover
After reading Carlos Busqued’s debut novel Under This Terrible Sun, you’ll never look at the overabundance of unconditional love that a grandmother possesses for her grandchildren, the joys of batting around a baseball on those never-ending lazy days of summer, or the easy sexual satisfaction derived from watching pornography in quite the same way. In two merciless pages, with effortless brilliance and unflinching prose, Busqued ruins all three things, forever. And not content with stopping there, he continues on, wreaking havoc for over 100 pages more.
Aside from the train wreck like inescapability of it all, the rubber necking that you take part in as a reader, the realization that as much as you want to you can’t look away, you can’t put down the book, you must keep turning the pages to see what happens next, even though you know it’s going to ruin you emotionally, as if you need more, a big part of what makes Under This Terrible Sun work so effectively is that Busqued refuses to let you escape the grasp of his chosen subjects for even a single second. It’s almost as if they merge with and become an unshakable part of the reader’s psyche. They’re all so impossibly flawed and damaged, and it’s these qualities that make them each so utterly fascinating.
The novel opens with the introduction of Cetarti, a man content to drift through life in a haze of pot smoke, that is, until he receives a phone call that his estranged mother and brother have been violently executed by Daniel Molina as part of a murder suicide. This news ultimately leads him to the Argentinian village of Lapachito where must identify the bodies, and in doing so has the misfortune of meeting Duarte.
Duarte was the best friend of Molina. He served in the military with the man and feels obligated to help clean up his estate. He’s also clearly a criminal, and easily entices Centarti to take part in an insurance fraud scheme that will net them both a sizable chunk of cash. Duarte’s character serves as the lynch pin that holds the novel together and connects its multiple storylines. It’s through him that we’re introduced to the other major players: Danielito and his mother Marta. They are the son and first wife of Molina respectively.
When the massive Danielito’s not busy helping Duarte with his other criminal enterprises, he finds himself catering to the increasingly strange requests of his overbearing mother. Much like Centarti he feels directionless, caught in a perpetual state of going with the flow and stunted by his own inability to make any meaningful decisions for himself with regards to the course his life is taking.
How these four individuals do or do not connect is left hanging for the bulk of the novel. It’s clear that something will ultimately happen, but much like real life, what that is seems murky at best and wholly unpredictable. Things spiral out of control in each plot thread, but it’s when they finally connect that the reader should really beware.
At its core, Under This Terrible Sun is an exploration of the darker side of the human experience that mainly serves to remind readers that ultimately all life, human or otherwise, contains at least some measure of unavoidable pain along the way, and the only assurance that it carries with it is that of death. It’s also an interesting study of the varying degrees of victimhood that are inherent throughout all levels of nature and features four unforgettable characters that are so strange and so unlikable, yet at the same time so magnetic that it’s nearly impossible to turn away from them.
Centarti, Duarte, Danielito, and Marta each seem to hold within them the potential to unlock answers to an entire series of questions that we never thought to stop and ask about ourselves, our lives, and the current course of humanity as a whole.
Under This Terrible Sun
By Carlos Busqued
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Frisch & Co.