Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Foreigners by Maxine Swann

An American woman is entranced by Buenos Aires

Recently divorced Daisy (named after Henry James’s Daisy?) suffers a few inexplicable fainting fits. For a complete change of scene and to recuperate, she accepts an assignment researching the public waterworks of Buenos Aires. She finds her new city to be strange, full of greenery, and its inhabitants even stranger, standoffish with an inferiority complex. Daisy soon meets the enchanting half-crazy Leonarda, who likes to shake things up. Daisy is charmed by her, as Leonarda intends. Soon their friendship progresses to an intense sexual flirtation, supplemented by Leonarda’s insane affairs with insane men. Meanwhile, proper yet penniless Isolde, a chubby blonde Austrian, tries to crack Argentine society, by virtue of her education and fair skin, but soon learns Argentines may long for European polish, but not at the price of neediness.

This weird beautifully written book was compelling. At the end the author doesn’t shy away from the conclusions implied in the first half. Daisy realizes that what she really wants a girl with a dick and Leonarda obliges her. Isolde runs out of money and discovers she is good at an occupation forbidden in her aspirational world. This book reminded me a little of Le Grand Meaulnes, that dreamy feeling of another world, a much desired world, and a much desired object of desire. Except Le Grand Meaulnes did not have spanking scenes. I also enjoyed the somewhat Melvillian encyclopedic interruptions of descriptions of Buenos Aires canals and trees.

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