While I had not read William Hjortsberg’s first novel, “Falling Angel,” or watched the movie it inspired, I was instantly captivated by the description and the cover for his newest novel, “Manana.” I dove into this novel hoping for the mind-bending read that the advertising blurb promised.
Todd was living it up during the summer of love south of the border. He does not really remember anything about the night before except for taking his first hit of heroin. The rest of the night is gone. He would think that it would all come crashing back to him when he wakes up in bed next to a murdered prostitute but he cannot remember anything. He does not even know if he is the killer. All he knows is that he is alone with the body and the murder weapon, his favorite hunting knife, and that his wife and friends are missing. He is convinced that his wife was kidnapped and that he was left behind as the fall guy for the woman’s murder but he needs to find his wife and proof of his innocence.
Todd buys a gun and goes on a drug-fueled journey or violence and betrayal as he tracks down his wife to discover that she willingly left him for a local drug lord. He is determined to get her back, feeling that their love is more powerful than her temporary betrayal, and must work behind the scenes to track down the dealer and set up a confrontation that will win him his life or cost him his life. Todd may soon find, however, that his wife’s initial betrayal may just be the tip of the iceberg and that something much darker may lay in wait for him in the near future.
“Manana” is a strange combination of a drug trip story of the type made popular by writers such as Hunter S. Thompson and a crime novel that creates a somewhat unique feel for the story. Todd alternates between reality and a sort of pseudo-reality that can at times make the story feel a little choppy and which ultimately undermines the effectiveness of the story. While there were several things to like about the story, it starts off with a band but then kind of drifts along for a while as if lacking a direction and becomes a type of aimless wandering through Todd’s confused mind. This may have been effective if handled properly but it just does not seem as if Hjortsberg was up to the task and I found myself just not really caring about what was happening. It did not help that none of the characters were compelling as well so their fate was unimportant. The middle of the book felt almost as if I was watching a movie without any sound. I just felt as if I was missing something integral to the story.
There is a lot that goes wrong with “Manana” and I was wondering at one point if I would be able to get through the book. I just could not get into the story and continued on hoping that it would get better. Luckily, it did and the conclusion of the story is the best part with its relatively straight forward action sequence that wraps up the story. Still, the novel was a disappointment for me and I was bummed when I finished it. I did not find the writing particularly strong, the characters were either reprehensible or just shallow, and the action was too little and spaced too far apart. This is a story that would have been better served to be no more than half the length that it is almost as if this was a short story stretched to novel length. Some may find more to like about “Manana” than I did but it just did not work for me.
I would like to thank Open Road Media and NetGalley for this review copy. “Manana” is available now.