Toni Sala's short novel begins as a meditation on death, morphs into an interrogation of contemporary bankruptcies, and culminates in one the most profound and disturbing artistic visions ever written



Toni Sala, The Boys, Trans. by Mara Faye Lethem, Two Lines Press, 2015.
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The once-bucolic Catalonian village of Vidreres has been ravaged by a harsh recession, and now two of its young men have died in a horrible car crash. As the town attends the funeral, a banker named Ernest heads to the tree where they died, trying to make sense of the tragedy. There he meets a brutish trucker, who in between Internet hookups and trips to prostitutes has taken a liking to Iona, the fiancée of one of the dead boys. Iona might be just what he needs to fix his tawdry life, but she’s mixed up with an artist who makes frightening projects. Masterfully conjuring the voices of each of these four characters, Toni Sala entwines their lives and their feelings of guilt, fear, and rage over an unspeakable loss.

Long known as one of Spain’s most powerful authors, Toni Sala is at his mischievous best here, delivering a sinister, fast-moving tale laced with intricate meditations on everything from social networks to Spain’s economic collapse to the mysterious end that awaits us all. The Boys is a startlingly honest vision of the things we’ll do in order to feel a little less alone in this world.

Beguiling, odd story of what happens to a small town when death pays an unexpected visit.
Vidreres isn’t much of a town, a forgettable spot after a blind hill that opens onto a striking view of the “luminous teeth of the Pyrenees.” Like the spectral village at the center of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, it’s full of ghosts—but also the usual human preoccupations of sex, power, betrayal, poverty, the sight of money moving “between men like a gust of wind.” Catalan author Sala makes this tiny place his own, populating it with a cast that revolves around two unfortunate dead teenagers, Jaume and Xavi Batlle, whose little Peugeot goes flying off into a tree one fateful Saturday. The crash that kills the youngsters is a mystery, though one villager, better educated than most, speculates that it’s no accident; as he tells a brawling truck driver who’s no stranger to mayhem, “A lot of accidents are suicides and no one realizes.” Sometimes an accident is just an accident, true, but this “death that doesn’t let death live” changes the lives of everyone in Vidreres. One is Iona, a teenage girl who might easily have been in the car with the boys had she accepted Jaume’s invitation to go with them that evening; now she’s left to wrestle with survivor’s guilt, because while a big-city girl might have gone to a psychiatrist or grief counselor, “in Vidreres, because of the way Vidreres was, she would have to deal with it herself.” Tough guy Miqui is no exception: he bluffs and blusters, but he’s touched, too, as is the milquetoast bank manager whose great act of midlife-crisis reconciliation is to sneak out to see a hooker and then ponder the consequences: “Had the dead boys been released from inside him, during his orgasm?” It's a fruitful question, one of many that Sala poses.
A compelling existential mystery, on one level a sort of Catalan answer to Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter, with a closing as haunting as a tale by Poe. Altogether brilliant.— Kirkus

“Toni Sala’s short novel begins as a meditation on death, morphs into an interrogation of contemporary bankruptcies, and culminates in one the most profound and disturbing artistic visions ever written. This book stunned me in a way that I will recover from as a different person than I was when I picked it up.” — Elise Blackwell

“Beautifully composed, The Boys (winner of Catalonia’s highest literary award) heralds a stirring, unique new voice in English translation. Sala’s novel, set in an age of increasing detachment and anxiety, espies unflinchingly the tenuous connections and moral ambiguities of modern life. With vivid characters, confident prose, and a heady mix of style and substance, The Boys deserves major attention from devotees of international literature (and especially fans of António Lobo Antunes, Javier Marías, Gonçalo Tavares, and Roberto Bolaño).” — Jeremy Garber

In a fatal car crash in the small Catalan town of Vidreres, two young men have died, leaving the entire town afflicted with a powerful grief. The story homes in on four of those townspeople, both directly and indirectly related to the dead: Ernest, a banker; Miqui, a coarse truck driver; Iona, the fiancée of one of the dead boys; and Nil, an unhinged artist in pursuit of Iona. In the days that follow the accident, these four make the dark, interconnected narrative: Miqui introduces Ernest to prostitutes, even while taking a fancy to Iona, and Nil tries to introduce the grieving Iona to a form of pyromania especially cruel to animals. “The dead gave life shape,” the book states, and indeed, readers witness how the four lives are suspended and altered in the wake of the accident. Sala is a master of meditation, and the excitement and intrigue are never sacrificed despite digressive passages on Internet alienation, art, violence, phrases of grief, the Spanish recession, and love. One hopes this tremendous novel, already an award-winner overseas, will receive the attention it deserves here. — Publishers Weekly

“The Boys confirmed that what I believe to be literature is still possible. . . . A masterpiece.”— Narcís Comadira, Ara

“Sala creates an exercise in style that meditates on our most primal identity.”— Time Out Barcelona

“The best he’s ever written: powerful prose packed with emotion and reflection and striking images.” — Matthew Tree, El Punt Avui

“A great novel that reflects the world we live in.”— Catorze

“Although we may not realize it as we’re reading, we’re descending into the circles of hell.”— Bernat Puigtobella, Núvol

Vidreres, a village in the restive Catalonia region of Spain, has been hit hard by the global recession of 2008. It sustains a further blow when Jaume and Xavi, two of its promising young sons, are killed in an automobile accident. “The fierce screech [of the tires] had flown over the fields, appearing on the streets of Vidreres with such violence that the next day the townspeople found tire skid marks in the hallways of their homes, on their sofas, in their showers, on their sheets.” In The Boys, Toni Sala paints a portrait of the impact of globalization and generational conflict on Vidreres—a very particular place and time—through the reactions of four characters to the deaths of the young men.
Ernest, a duty-bound middle-aged banker, is offended by the randomness of the deaths and stifled by the rituals of his life.
…an unexpected death…kills hope and longing…doesn’t leave time for making plans or for renouncing making plans, it is a death that doesn’t let death live, doesn’t let it make a will, or project anything for what’s left of life, that kills the future like any death but also kills all possible expectations and therefore kills the past, it is a retroactive death…
Ernest suffers from survivor’s guilt and survivor’s envy, simultaneously.
Miqui is a 30-something truck driver, boorish and mouthy, seething with resentment toward the government and big business. He is sure that his father’s generation conspired against him, stealing the future he’d been promised, saddling him and his generation with crushing debt as they borrow to pay for their parents’ lifestyles. “The old folks had the good jobs and salaries, they had the dough, they had gotten there first.” Miqui envies the dead men their escape.
Iona is the fiancé of Jaume, one of the deceased brothers. They had been a couple since high school. Iona is lost, floundering—her entire future, which had been assured yesterday, is no longer.
Person, animal, or landscape—it happened like with the professors at college: learning wasn’t merely receiving, it was an exchange, nothing was free, getting to know someone meant giving part of your life and that life was what you cried over later, when someone took it with him into the void. And right now Jaume was fleeing like a thief.
Nil is a failed artist (“People who complicate their lives”), recently returned to his parent’s farm, which adjoins the farm where Jaume’s and Xavi’s parents are mourning. Nil is a more than a little unhinged (“he became a comic book monster like the ones he drew in high school”) but he’s attempting to return to a simpler place and time (“so the flesh and the land could be the same, and in this perpetuation his existence was at stake, the existence of his ancestors, life itself was at stake”), and restore his parents’ faith in him. So Nil is ought to agree to his father’s plan to ensure that the adjoining farm is sold to them, not to Iona’s family. Nil envies the mourning for the brothers. As long as you are remembered, you are immortal.
When these four characters’ lives intertwine the results are unpredictable, to say the least. In Mara Faye Lethem’s translation, Sala chooses his words carefully, creating evocative, unexpected images. The mountains: “the luminous teeth of the Pyrenees.” A boatyard where repossessed “trophies” are laid to rest: “A raspberry patch had slowly been invading one area of the cemetery, the bramble had grown and taken over some of the ships, hugging them, tangling around them and covering them like a slow green wave, a thorny wave through which a bow, a submerged berth, or a bit of railing occasionally peeked through.” Nil gazing out his window: “the winter mornings rose wet with milky fog, and the dew’s pledge: branches with pearl earrings on their tips, wisps of fodder with necklaces of crystal flowers, grains of sand with tiny diamond rings.”
Sala likes to free-associate glorious run-on sentences. Here he considers what the brother who was driving the car thought as he saw his unavoidable fate coming for him.
He flooded the half second, or what was left of the half second, the longest half second of his life, half a second of explosions, half a second that the driver would have lengthened or shortened infinitely but was only able to turn into the best utilized half second, the most lived half second of his life: a terrorific farewell, the skull awaiting the bullet, a half second that never reaches its end but will be over at any moment, when you least expect it, suddenly, but what do you do in the meantime?
In this slim volume, death—of people, animals, economies, futures, nation-states, identity—is the ultimate mystery, a permanent frustration, but ubiquitous and banal, the most natural thing in the world.
We spend our lives in retreat, only at the bottom of the well can we know if life was worth living or not, or to put it better, even though it’s the same thing: we can know whether or not we can know if life was worth living or not. And we can’t communicate that knowledge. - 

Author Toni Sala and Translator Mara Faye Lethem on “The Boys” and “Morality in Difficult Times”


Catalan author Toni Sala won the 2015 Premio de la Critica Catalana for this book, and man oh man does it deserve ALL the prizes.
Think I'm being hyperbolic, hmm? Trust me, after you've read this novel about four interrelated characters and the ways in which economic collapse, the internet, death, and family become intertwined, you'll understand.
Here, Sala introduces us to Ernest (a middle-aged banker), Miqui (an underemployed trucker), Iona (a vet in training), and Nil (a failed artist and sadist). What they all have in common is their connection to the tragic death of two brothers in a car crash outside of Vidreres. These deaths stun the entire village, and questions of land and inheritance haunt everyone who worries about passing down their name and property to their children. After all, as one character explains, during times of economic depression, owning land is everything.
To Ernest, who only works in Vidreres and didn't know the boys personally, this tragedy overwhelms him with questions about the nature of death and his own purpose in the world. Miqui, scraping together a living from what work he can find and taking care of his elderly father, spends his spare time "picking up" women on internet dating sites while using fake photos and descriptions. Pushing the boundaries of identity makes him feel most alive. Iona sinks under the grief of losing her fiance and future brother-in-law and is then confronted with the possibility that her family will buy the land that the dead boys' parents are selling. Not long after the funeral, she (reluctantly) goes for a drink with Nil, whose family just happens to live on the other side of the land up for sale. Both Iona and Nil's fathers want this property, but Nil's bizarre, sadistic hobby ruins his family's chances.
 Sala devotes each section to a single character's inner monologue, inviting the reader to consider the accident from multiple perspectives (both physical and philosophical). In telling these stories, he shows us what it's like to live in Spain in 2015, where the deep recession has strangled people's dreams, given new life to independence movements, and forced families to think more deeply about their prospects and their children's futures.
Compact and compelling, The Boys needs to be on the top of your TBR pile. - 


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