Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: "The Halfway House" by Guillermo Rosales

I will probably be repeating many of the broader things I said in my review of Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling, but the novel I just read, Guillermo Rosales’ The Halfway House, is another underappreciated masterpiece of 20th century literature. From it’s compact length at barely over 100 pages, to a cast of freaks and outcasts unlike any you have ever seen, every little moment in this heartbreaking book never seems false and rings loudly with the sad truth about not only Rosales’ lack of homeland, which eventually led to his suicide when he was 47, but to certain types of person’s lack of homeland as well. Rosales’ novel deals with freaks and mutants; not the creative kind that will eventually find a place among like minded-individuals, but the kinds of freaks and mutants that will never find any kind of home in their lifetimes, and will most likely die alone and forgotten in some dingy corner of a world that never gave them chance to live. It is group of people that Rosales found himself in towards the end of his life, and the way he writes about them, with humor, pathos and breathtaking empathy, he gives life to this collection of misfits that is really eye-opening. These people become martyrs in a way, vessels for all of the hate, prejudice and grief in the terrible world that they were unlucky enough to find themselves in. To Rosales, they are saints that deserve our respect and reverence. The narrator, William Figueras, is a writer who finds himself in Miami after being exiled from his home country of Cuba after Castro finds his writing to extreme for the Communist government. He is committed to the hallway house, and there he finds a group of crazed inhabitants who all have special, severe issues: there is an eighteen year old virgin girl who is so disheveled and beaten down by life, she resembles an old hag, there is a one-eyed man who won’t stop urinating everywhere except the toilet, and an American who keeps screaming at invisible people across the street. They are all overseen by a cruel man named Arsenio, a man whose violent temper is only outweighed by the paltriness of his tepid dreams of success. He tries to find some sense of hope in his books that he has brought with him. When a troubled woman named Frances comes to live there, he sees a way out of this hellish environment. I’m not spoiling it to say that it doesn’t end well. But that is part of the magic of this little novel. The love story is anything but romantic, stripped of all idealism and passion and replaced with a strong repugnancy. The sex scenes are written as if they are farm animals mating, these two lost souls not searching for love, but for a lost humanity that has been destroyed a long time ago. This is what One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would be like minus the hope, because in Rosales life, and unfortunately in his death, he found none. This is a powerful novel that you will not soon forget.

Rating: 5/5

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