Review: The Boys by Toni Sala
Two Lines Press, 256 pages)
Catalan author Toni Sala won the 2015 Premio de la Critica Catalana for this book, and man oh man does it deserve ALL the prizes.
Think I'm being hyperbolic, hmm? Trust me, after you've read this novel about four interrelated characters and the ways in which economic collapse, the internet, death, and family become intertwined, you'll understand.
Here, Sala introduces us to Ernest (a middle-aged banker), Miqui (an underemployed trucker), Iona (a vet in training), and Nil (a failed artist and sadist). What they all have in common is their connection to the tragic death of two brothers in a car crash outside of Vidreres. These deaths stun the entire village, and questions of land and inheritance haunt everyone who worries about passing down their name and property to their children. After all, as one character explains, during times of economic depression, owning land is everything.
To Ernest, who only works in Vidreres and didn't know the boys personally, this tragedy overwhelms him with questions about the nature of death and his own purpose in the world. Miqui, scraping together a living from what work he can find and taking care of his elderly father, spends his spare time "picking up" women on internet dating sites while using fake photos and descriptions. Pushing the boundaries of identity makes him feel most alive. Iona sinks under the grief of losing her fiance and future brother-in-law and is then confronted with the possibility that her family will buy the land that the dead boys' parents are selling. Not long after the funeral, she (reluctantly) goes for a drink with Nil, whose family just happens to live on the other side of the land up for sale. Both Iona and Nil's fathers want this property, but Nil's bizarre, sadistic hobby ruins his family's chances.
Sala devotes each section to a single character's inner monologue, inviting the reader to consider the accident from multiple perspectives (both physical and philosophical). In telling these stories, he shows us what it's like to live in Spain in 2015, where the deep recession has strangled people's dreams, given new life to independence movements, and forced families to think more deeply about their prospects and their children's futures.
Compact and compelling, The Boys needs to be on the top of your TBR pile.