Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: "Dirty Havana Trilogy" by Pedro Juan Gutierrez

This came as a pleasant surprise for someone who continually and without mercy bashes any kind of self-indulgent literature. From Bukowski to the Beats, I have raked them through the cools and shunned the experience I had with them as a youthful bibliophile. So when I started Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy, I thought it was going to be just like the kind of books I used to read but now cannot stand. I did not think it was going to be as bad as some of those books I cam to loath, but I had no idea I was going to like it as much as I do. This book is really, really fun to read. It has the suspense and intrigue of any good thriller despite almost nothing within its pages being anything close to linear. I went through this book the way I went through a Lansdale or Bazell book. It is lightening fast, even though nothing connects and it is easy to lose track of time, place and character in this brutal nasty world described by Gutierrez’s alter ego, Pedro Juan. And despite how awful this book gets in terms of people’s actions, it is imbibed with a tremendous amount of optimism, hope and joy that seem to be the only thing left in early 90’s Cuba. Despite sometimes being near death and despair, we find that our narrator is meeting everything with a giant shit-eating grin even the most acidic cynicism cannot wipe off. What little plot there is deals with the daily life of Pedro Juan, a painter and sometimes journalist, who is drifting through life, sometimes living in squalor amongst the ruins of what used to be the large and decadent city of Havana. The only real thing that can distract Pedro from the mess his life and country have become is a constant search for the most graphic and perverted sex. Sometimes it is for love, and sometimes just out of boredom, but we as readers are treated to Pedro’s escapades in graphic and sickening detail (including one scene where a bought of anal sex ends in the worst possible way). But what I think makes this different from something like Ham on Rye, is that the people and places seem real and actually exist in the world Gutierrez crafts. In Bukowski’s world, the people he writes about only serve the purpose of enhancing his legend or merely being an obstacle in Chinaski’s unending quest for solitude, but the people Pedro Juan meets are written with great care and depth, and may have an even better story to tell than our narrator. Also, there seems to be a greater, more physical threat of violence in these vignettes than in Bukowski’s. Not only does Pedro face psychological death, he faces great physical threats as well, described brutally in the third section where a woman is raped in graphic detail. The sex scenes can seem redundant, but it is broken up with really bizarre people and actions (like the guy who got fired from a morgue for sleeping with female corpses), but we, and Pedro never lose sight of the value of life. Ultimately a fun and intriguing read for anyone interested in the depths of human hope. Just don’t take it to seriously.
Rating: 5/5

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