Beautiful by Massimo Cuomo translated by Will Schutt
Enjoy or envy? Of course Santiago loves him but he’s not sure where to direct his hate. For Miguel too his beauty is both boon and burden as, while the girls at school queue to kiss him, there’s a hollowness inside, a hunger, confusion, about love. As the brothers grow to adulthood, the whole family – father and sons at least – are somehow stunted by Miguel’s beauty. Must they erase it to find themselves?
The tone is whimsical, with hints of magic realism and – for me, very welcome – occasional humorous touches, but I found the style distancing and felt emotionally disconnected from the characters. For the first half particularly, dwelling on the unremarkable sibling rivalry of the boys’ childhoods, I found the pace sluggish, with too many words for what’s really a simple story, although it picked up in the second half with the coming-of-age theme.
Set in Mexico, Beautiful is the Italian author’s third novel and the first to appear in English translation. Overall, I found it a passable story of the impact of celebrity of the family system and the harm that can accrue when bodies are objectified to the exclusion of the person inside. Thanks to Europa editions for my advance proof copy.
900 Miles by EJ Runyon
There’s a lot in this novel about online friendships, about food and some Americanisms I didn’t get. And both the title and cover led me to expect Christina’s travels to begin earlier in the book. That aside, what impressed me about 900 Miles is the psychology of early emotional neglect and deprivation: Christina can’t easily spend her money because she’s internalised the message that having stuff isn’t for her. I don’t recall coming across this theme so directly elsewhere in fiction, or in popular discourse, although it’s something that makes a lot of sense to me.
Published by my own publisher, Inspired Quill, at the end of this month and available for preorder here, it’s a Californian coming-of-age story bringing an alternative and more nuanced perspective to the usual sudden-riches narratives of either happy-ever-after or relationship ruin.