A breathtaking, suspenseful story of one man’s obsessive search to find the truth of another man’s downfall, from the author of The King Is Always Above the People, which was longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction.
Nelson’s life is not turning out the way he hoped. His girlfriend is sleeping with another man, his brother has left their South American country, leaving Nelson to care for their widowed mother, and his acting career can’t seem to get off the ground. That is, until he lands a starring role in a touring revival of The Idiot President, a legendary play by Nelson’s hero, Henry Nunez, leader of the storied guerrilla theater troupe Diciembre. And that’s when the real trouble begins.
The tour takes Nelson out of the shelter of the city and across a landscape he’s never seen, which still bears the scars of the civil war. With each performance, Nelson grows closer to his fellow actors, becoming hopelessly entangled in their complicated lives, until, during one memorable performance, a long-buried betrayal surfaces to force the troupe into chaos.
Nelson’s fate is slowly revealed through the investigation of the narrator, a young man obsessed with Nelson’s story—and perhaps closer to it than he lets on. In sharp, vivid, and beautiful prose, Alarcón delivers a compulsively readable narrative and a provocative meditation on fate, identity, and the large consequences that can result from even our smallest choices.
In Alarc n's (Lost City Radio) novel, Nelson is a young actor living in a nameless Latin American country. He is happy to learn that he has been selected to join Diciembre, a guerrilla theatre troupe. He will be performing in a politically incendiary play called The Idiot President. Accompanying him is the playwright, Henry Nu ez, who was jailed for the original production. Nelson says goodbye to his widowed mother and his girlfriend, Ixta, and embarks on his theatrical journey. In one town, Henry pays a visit to the family of his former cellmate and lover, Rogelio, and commits an incredible faux pas, which presents Nelson with the opportunity to play the part of a lifetime. He eventually returns to the city, where he finds that Ixta is pregnant by his "rival," Mindo. What follows is a series of misunderstandings that leads to the book's final, ironic act. Nelson's story is told by an unnamed narrator whose intrusions telegraph that the protagonist's story might not end well. Much of the book reads like a needlessly protracted warm-up for Nelson's coup de th tre, and what follows is too melodramatic for the reader to take entirely seriously. Still, Alarc n recreates the tense atmosphere of what it is like to live in a country where words have consequences.