In seven interconnected short stories, the Guatemalan countryside is ever-present: a place of timeless peace, and the site of sudden violence. Don Henrik, a good man struck time and again by misfortune, confronts the crude realities of farming life, family obligation, and the intrusions of merciless entrepreneurs, hitmen, drug dealers, and fallen angels, all wanting their piece of the pie. Told with precision and a stark beauty, Trout, Belly Up is a beguiling, disturbing ensemble of moments set in the heart of a rural landscape in a country where brutality is never far from the surface.
Guatemalan writer Fuentes's impressive debut collection chronicles the comings and goings of a struggling farmer, Henrik, and those in his orbit. In the title story, Henrik tries his hand at trout farming, but while he is away, the employee he left in charge starts an affair with a shopkeeper and ignores his duties. "Dive" takes place early in Henrik's life and features his delinquent brother, Mati, who embarks on a hunt for Mayan ceramics in a lake near Santa Catarina Palop . "Whisky" picks up with an older Mati, whose dog, Whisky, goes missing during a weekend visit from his young daughter, who splits her time with Mati and her mother. "Ubaldo's Island" concerns one of Henrik's employees, Ubaldo, who tells Henrik's stepson, Andr s, about a group of armed men set on taking Henrik's land over unpaid debts, and the final story, "Henrik," follows the farmer's life with Andr s and Andr s's mother as he deals with collectors and deep-pocketed neighbors aiming to purchase his farm. Fuentes's prose is emotionally resonant and smartly constructed, and though the brief story "Terrace" feels undercooked, the collection otherwise successfully blends sharp dialogue, striking images, and consequential action. These satisfying stories are full of surprises.