Title: Perfect Days
Author: Raphael Montes
Publisher: Penguin Press
|A Pretty Pastel Pink hides Pretty Perverted Problems|
Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn't have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She's almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she's working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can't get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together.
Oh my...this book left me with so many thoughts and feelings which I still trying to untangle. Let me start by saying that this book (the April pick for the Criminally Good Book Club) is the first book that we've read that freaked me out in a hide-under-the-blankets way. There is no doubt that Montes is a very talented writer which has earned him comparisons with Stephen King, which is apt as his style seemed at times to blur the lines between crime and horror. (As an aside, I feel like several of the book club books blur the lines between genres: Pendulum felt very action/crime and His Bloody Project felt more historical literary fiction/crime which I find pretty awesome! I would have never encountered such a wide range of crime/thrillers had it not been for this book club!) But I digress, horror is not my genre. I am a HUGE baby, so there were several scenes in this book that made me queasy. I'm trying not to spoil too much but let's just say that Teo IS a medical student..
There are two things I really admired about this story. The first is the fact that this novel is set in Brazil, a country (or continent for that matter, I need to read more Latin American crime novels!) which I normally do not read about and the setting was masterfully described by someone obviously familiar with the places the story takes place in. The cultural details were atmospheric but not heavy handed, for example Teo drinks guava juice and listens to Brazilian artists throughout the roadtrip. The second were the twists that Montes put on several tropes (the road trip, the kidnapping, the manic-pixie dream girl). I feel like the concept of this book and even the main character were not wholly original (I kept thinking about Norman Bates) but the spin that Montes gives these tropes will keep you on your toes.
Montes really knows how to play with your emotions and make you uncomfortable. Montes brings up issues about consent, violence, and misogyny in was that feel plausible and made me put myself easily in the shoes of his victim. Ultimately that's what makes this book so good/scary is that it feels realistic. Everything except the ending which I feel might be a little divisive and goes for that cinematic touch a la Match Point, I personally enjoyed the ending (if enjoyed is the right word here) I though it tied the story together with a nice twisted bow. Ultimately this book is not quite a mystery, there's no big 'reveal' or a 'whodunnit' it is more a blend of the horror/thriller genre where the mystery is who will survive this macabre nightmare of a road trip. It was one of those books where I needed to take the occasional emotional break but found it really hard to tear myself away because I needed to find out what happened next. If you don't mind your books with a big dollop of creepy, definitely pick this up!