by Alberto Fuguet
Told from the perspective of teenager Matías Vicuña, Mala Onda is an eight day window into the narrator’s mind, beginning with the end of a school trip to Rio de Janeiro. He’s a Chilean Holden Caulfield, and Fuguet knows this. He even calls attention to it half way through the book when Matías is given Catcher in the Rye from a friend. Whereas Salinger’s novel draws attention to primarily Holden as a character, Mala Onda uses Matías as a vessel to view Chile in 1980 just prior to the reelection/confirmation of General Pinochet as dictator. Matías’s turbulent lifestyle gives the reader a sense of the chaos Chile was experiencing under military rule. It’s the story of an adolescent who doesn’t know who he is, living in the capital of a country that doesn’t know where it wants to be. Stylistically Fuguet draws the reader in right away as Matías’s invisible companion. He confides in you and only you, since there’s no one else he can stand anymore. Isolating himself from friend after friend, he gains his reader’s pity and trust, but then messes up so bad you want not just to shut the book, but to smack him. Rarely have I felt as emotionally attached to a character both positively and negatively as to Matías. He’s an intelligent idiot, a loveable jerk. At times I wasn’t so much entertained as morbidly fascinated by his story. I’d pick up the book merely because I felt sorry for him. How many books can do that?
Note: I was told to read this book after asking for an easy read by a Chilean author in the Spanish language. I highly recommend it to anyone in that (admittedly small) boat.