Thu, Jan 22, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Book review: Blood-Drenched Beard

Set in a pristine Brazilian beach town, a troubled young man searches for answers to his family’s secrets, including his grandfather’s murder

By Dwight Garne  /  NY Times News Service


Galera also, very happily, has a gift for zonked-out humor. Our narrator joins a poker game in which the players wear adult diapers, so they never have to leave the table. He meets a prostitute whose tramp stamp reads, “God is dead.”

One man keeps an eye patch in his car to prevent him from seeing double when he’s driving drunk. This is the sort of novel that when a character asks, “Where are we?” the response is likely to be, “In what sense?”

Sometimes Blood-Drenched Beard — someone, please, open a hipster steakhouse under this name — slows down too much, like a skiff floundering in a “no wake” zone. The tone can be uneven. There’s a fair amount of bogus profundity. (“As soon as you give something a name, it dies.”)

Worse, our narrator is given a neurobiological disease from which to suffer: prosopagnosia, sometimes called face blindness or facial amnesia. He can’t remember faces, nor recognize his own in the mirror. This adds to the novel’s sense of spooky detachment, yet I’ve had my fill of amnesia as a trope in fiction and in the movies. No more for a while, please. My fingers have been burned on this buffet table.

None of these things are deal-breakers. Galera is a gifted writer, and it is mostly a treat to watch him feel his way around this material. Like his narrator, he’s a lover as much as a fighter, and his novel is seductive. It’s got a tidal pull.

Blood-Drenched Beard also has a terrific ending. It’s one that suggests, sometimes at least, that peace, love and understanding are vastly overrated.

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