In the last two decades of the 20th c. Raleigh, North Carolina, had a booming economy and a large number of newcomers. More and different housing were required. Developments, entire communities popped up, sometimes around a lake but most often around a golf course. Initially they were just regular streets with expensive houses. But soon these developments became exclusive communities, gated, with their own social structure: smaller houses in one part, larger houses in another. In one area all houses had shingled roofs, in another they were asphalt black tiles were permitted. These communities had several sports facilities, pre-schools, elementary schools and very strict rules of behavior within the community--all of this to address some sense of security. No one bothered to question the clipping of one's freedoms, even if small: the choices of your house's exterior colors, building styles, the landscaping of front yards. To someone living outside these communities, it appeared as if one needed to adjust oneself to the house, instead of having a home that expressed who you were.
Claudia Piñeiro's book, As viúvas das quintas-feiras, portrays such a community on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Like its American counterpart, those who live in Altos de la Cascada believe they not only breathe a purer air than everyone else in the world, but they deserve to have that kind of luxury. Indeed they go to that golf course community much for the same reasons an American from Detroit would want to go to such a development in Raleigh: a need not to mix with the "dangerous" crowds in the city, with the poor, the needy, the inner city social outcasts.
But when hard times come, these are the people least capable to deal with change. They are the least able to keep their dignity and pride unhurt, for they have lived such protected lives, believing their world was exempt from anything wrong, anything bad, anything devious. In this book, not even the country's economic crisis was able to guide those living in the gated community to accept a different kind of living. And those who did were frequently laughed at, criticized behind their backs. Set at the turn of the 21st c. in Argentina, when the country entered in financial chaos, the inhabitants of Altos de la Cascada prefer to ignore and run away from the problems than to deal with the realities of bankruptcy and loss of jobs.
The novel has a good, fast pace for its first two thirds, losing some of its magic in the last chapters, but it does have an unexpected ending. This revived my interest in the narration. Not only the women--the Thursday's widows, as they are know--are portrayed. Their husbands, their children are just as much part of the plot and equally responsible for the novel's outcome. We are presented with subjects that are not so often talked about in light novels: anti-Semitism, anti-skin color prejudices, wife beating, and strange sexual preferences. And to increase the interest there is also a mystery to be solved.
I thought this was a good book to take along on a small vacation, a long weekend. It depicts a world we all know, and makes us wonder if indeed, this modern mania of living only with our peers, of exiling oneself from the social texture, is worth anything.
This novel received the Clarín Prize for Literature in 2005.
[*This review was based on the Brazilian edition of this book, As Viúvas das quintas-feiras, published in 2007, by Alfaguara]