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by Claudia Piñeiro
Translated from the Portuguese by Miranda France
Reviewed by Andrew Stancek

Claudia Piñeiro's Thursday Night Widows presents itself as a thriller. Yet even though in the opening we have three dead bodies in a pool and are promised an investigation of how they came to be there, this novel has more in common with Camus, or with DeLillo, than with a standard thriller. The bodies remain decaying in that pool for most of the novel while the real preoccupations are exhibited: the decay of Argentine society in 2001, the misery inherent in its class system, the hypocrisy. The families in the novel live in a gated community outside Buenos Aires. It is immediately following the 9/11 attacks, but even more importantly in the midst of Argentina's great financial crisis. The upper middle class, with whom the novel deals, sees the value of its currency go down to a quarter of its previous value. Regardless, the families in the Cascades community continue their parties, their affairs, their false dealings. They have tried to separate themselves from their country's woes, to create a cocoon, by their move into a protected isolation. The bodies show the impossibility of such a separation.

Ultimately of course Piñeiro's story is not only about Argentina, but is a dystopian tale about the West as a whole, about affluence and the undermining of personal relationships that it brings about. The idyllic bubble bursts. Wealth does not and cannot protect. If there is any hope at all, it is in the breakdown of the social structures, of the prejudices, in the discovery of the common humanity of all. Carmen, one of the sheltered wealthy women, reacts to her husband's desertion by forging a bond with her Paraguayan servant, Gabina. And to the shock of the community, Gabina no longer wears a uniform; Carmen and Gabina eat together, laughing, in the club restaurant. The moneyed eventually succeed in thrusting them out of their protected world. The machinations and intrigues continue. "Death was somehow abroad in the atmosphere…and nobody could shake off their bewilderment." The downward spiral of destruction continues and one of the narrators observes that "everything going on around me was more than I could take in." After the surprise twist denouement, for most of the characters fear of the future prevails. Piñeiro's disquieting novel is recommended not only to readers of stylish thrillers but also to all readers of serious literature.