"A book of visceral and tender beauty whose echoes persist long after the final page."
—David Mitchell, author of The Bone Clocks
A coming of age tale of brutal beauty and disarming tenderness from one of Brazil's most exciting young novelists, an author writing in the footsteps of "Roberto Bolaño, Jim Harrison, the Coen brothers and...Denis Johnson" (The New York Times)
A young man wakes up at dawn to drive to the Andes, to climb the Cerro Bonetea mountain untouched by ice axes and climbers, one of the planet's final mountains to be conqueredas an act of heroic bravado, or foolishness. But instead, he finds himself dragged, by the undertow of memory, to Esplanada, the neighborhood he grew up in, to the brotherhood of his old friends, and to the clearing in the woods where he witnessed an act that has run like a scar through the rest of his life.
Back in Esplanada, the young man revisits his initiation into adulthood and recalls his boyhood friends who formed a strange and volatile pack. Together they play video games, get drunk around bonfires, pick fights, and goad each other into bike races where the winner is the boy who has the most spectacular crash. Caught between the threat of not being man enough, the desire to please his friends, and the intoxicating contact-high of danger, the boy finds himself following the rules of the pack even as the risks mount. And in a moment that reverberates and repeats itself in new ways in his adulthood, his fantasies of who he is and what it means to be a man come crashing down, and life asserts itself as an endless rehearsal for a heroic moment that may never arrive.
From one of Brazil's most dazzling writers, The Shape of Bones is an exhilarating story of mythic power. Daniel Galera has written a pulse-racing novel with the otherworldly wisdom of a parable.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Daniel Galera is a Brazilian writer and translator. He was born in Sao Paulo, but lives in Porto Alegre, where he has spent most of his life. He has published five novels in Brazil to great acclaim, including Blood-Drenched Beard, which was awarded the 2013 Sao Paulo Literature Prize. In 2013 Granta named Galera one of the Best Young Brazilian Novelists. He has translated the work of Zadie Smith, John Cheever, and David Mitchell into Portuguese. He is translated in English by Alison Entrekin.
Alison Entrekin translates Brazilian literature. Her works include Blood-Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera; City of God by Paulo Lins; The Eternal Son by Cristovão Tezza, shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, shortlisted for the PEN America Translation Prize; and Budapest by Chico Buarque, shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
The Urban Cyclist
Urban Cyclist. His powerful legs drive the pedals down in alternation, right, left, right, left, calculating the degree of incline by the strength required of his thigh and calf muscles for each complete revolution of the front sprocket. The soles of his feet and palms of his hands read each vibration transferred from the tires to the handlebars and frame, making micro- adjustments to his direction and balance at a speed faster than thought. The initial uphill stretch when he first leaves the house is short and serves to lubricate his joints and warm up his muscles. He quickly reaches Reservation Street. Its sloping cobbled lanes are separated by a grassy central reservation. Five blocks to the Strip. Knowing every inch of the way like the back of his hand doesn’t make the challenge any less dangerous for the Urban Cyclist. From one week to the next, so much can change. A resident might decide to have a new driveway put in so they can park their car in the garage more comfortably, and may have to deposit mounds of sand, gravel, and cement in the middle of the side- walk, an example of the kind of mutant obstacle for which the true Urban Cyclist must be prepared. There are dogs that shoot out like rockets from behind walls to try to snaffle a bit of their favorite food, an unwary cyclist’s shin. Even trees, an apparently peaceful and inoffensive element of the natural world, from one week to the next push out branches and roots, which can obstruct the Cyclist’s path. Weeds sprout from the sidewalk, concealing pebbles, holes, and bricks that can catch one by surprise and cause serious accidents from which only the most skilled, experienced cyclists emerge unscathed.
The day is auspicious for a high-risk, high-speed ride. It’s chilly out, with a cold wind of medium intensity and a clear sky. Although the wind causes certain discomfort, whipping the Cyclist’s face and making breathing difficult, it means he perspires less, thus reducing the need to wipe sweat from his eyes and the risk of his hand slipping on the bike’s plastic grips, an accident whose price would be nothing less than a few broken teeth and ribs.
On Reservation Street, he slows almost to a complete halt and gazes for a few seconds at the five-block slope stretching down before him like the throat of a giant pachyderm. Balancing like this without touching the ground requires excellent
technique from the rider and perfect synchronicity between cyclist and bike, a synchronicity that the Urban Cyclist most definitely shares with his old- fashioned-but-fierce, white-framed, blue-stickered
20" Caloi Cross BMX, with a foot brake and red balloon tires with a grooved tread in the place of the slim black originals, which were unsuited to the speed and terrain of elite urban cycling.
After a few seconds analyzing his course, which includes checking for traffic coming up or down the street, pedestrians or animals on the sidewalk, moisture in the terrain, the thrust of the wind, and the chance of rain, among other things, and already confident, after careful inspection back in his garage, that the bike is in a perfect state of maintenance, including wheel alignment, spoke adjustment, brake function, and air pressure in tires, as well as chain, bearing, and sprocket lubrication (a few drops of Singer oil on the main articulated parts are essential), the Urban Cyclist launches himself downhill, pedaling at such a breakneck speed that any observer would be dumbfounded.
With a few quick turns of the pedals, he attains a speed at which the vibration of the wheels on the cobblestones is almost too much to bear. But the Cyclist is familiar with this stretch and knows he must hold his wrists firm for a few more seconds until, with a sharp maneuver to the left that would
seem like madness to your average cyclist, he jumps over the central reservation, taking advantage of a curb cut, crosses the oncoming lane, shoots diagonally up a driveway to the sidewalk, and deftly executes a quick right-hand swerve with the handle- bars just in time to avoid colliding head-on with an unfinished cement wall whose surface looks as though bits of human skin and flesh would adhere to it nicely. This is the first of five tricky spots in today’s course, assuming, that is, that there are no surprises. Now on the sidewalk, the Cyclist passes five houses without many bumps or changes in the terrain, and allows himself to relax for a few seconds, reposition his hands on the grips, release the tension in his knees and elbows, and quickly take in the view until his gaze finds the waters of the Guaíba in the distance, dotted with white sails. On his right, now, are houses built within the last year, several with still-immaculate paint and roof tiles, separated from one another by miniforests. On his left, the land is predominantly arid, with long eroded strips of hard, orange dirt that extend down to the foot of the hill and give way to a flat area where extremely straight streets demarcate rectangular blocks divided into plots of land for sale. The subdivision of Porto Alegre’s southern suburbs is new, and few, to date, have taken up residence there. The Cyclist is a pioneer intent on mapping every inch of this inhospitable zone with his fearless wheels. An intersection. His ears quickly sweep the surroundings for noises that might indicate the potential threat of motor vehicles. Negative. Only the repetitive chirping of birds. A jump from curb to street, vibration. He returns to the curb with a wheelie, swerves around the stump of a sawed-off tree that is still oozing bubbly resin, and comes to the second tricky spot, a sequence of three adjacent driveways whose ramps form a series of stairs. The Cyclist pedals backward, applying light pressure to the brakes, vaulting from one level to the next at precisely the right speed. Jump, jump, jump. Sweat is already streaming in salty beads from his temples and pooling above his upper lip. The sandstone sidewalk suddenly disappears and gives way to a patch of brush that conceals a tangle of tree roots. This is the third tricky spot, perhaps the most dangerous of all, because the roots are hidden and no matter how many times he’s ridden it it’s impossible to memorize them all. Here the Urban Cyclist recognizes that his planning counts for nothing. The terrain calls the shots and decides if you are going to fall or not; all he can do is steady his wrists and be careful to relax his arm and leg joints so that they can act as natural shock absorbers, leaving enough slack for the bike to transfer the impact to his muscles. The most important thing is for rider and bike to maintain their balance as they cross the grass studded with traps of live wood, which may also contain a cruel shard of glass, a rusty tin can, or a dead opossum. When he gets to the end of the sidewalk, everything is still under control. He jumps over the curb again but doesn’t return to the sidewalk, as he knows he will soon come to a long stretch of dense vegetation that is impossible to cross. An elite urban cyclist must above all master the art of simultaneously dividing his attention between the front wheel of his bike, the terrain directly in front of him, and whatever is coming up a few dozen yards off. To neglect to do so can be costly when traversing such wild, unpredictable terrain as this at such a high speed. He knew in advance, thanks to his powers of observation, that he wouldn’t return to the sidewalk at this point, and he continues down the middle of the street, bracing himself through a new stretch of intense vibration on the cobblestones until he reaches the end of Reservation Street and the fourth tricky spot, the Strip.
The Strip is a tarmacked avenue. His course only takes in fifty-odd yards of it, until he can take a right on Shade Street and follow it to his final objective, Guaíba Avenue. To an urban cyclist, fifty yards of docile, smooth tarmac should be a breeze. But when this stretch of tarmac has cars, buses, trucks, and carts traveling along it in both directions, and you arrive at it from a perpendicular cobbled street at something like twenty-five miles an hour, or thirty-six feet a second, it becomes tricky spot number four. The Urban Cyclist requires a very light, stripped-back bike, like his 20" Caloi with the foot brake, for situations like this. He doesn’t wear a helmet, gloves, toe clips, or Lycra shorts that cling to his rear. That’s for girls. The Urban Cyclist wears ordinary trainers, shorts that allow plenty of air circulation, a short-sleeved T-shirt in summer and a long-sleeved one in winter. That’s it. A cap is allowed on rainy days or when it’s very sunny. As for the foot brake, the Cyclist knows it is scoffed at by most cyclists, who consider it old-fashioned, unsafe, and hard to operate. It does take a great deal of training to really master the foot brake, it is true, but once you have the hang of it, you’ll never want to change to a modern braking system, with levers on the handle- bars. The Urban Cyclist jams on his trusty foot brake with a backward turn of the pedal and goes into a skid across the cobblestones. The fine layer of sand and gravel covering the last few yards of the street influences the bike’s behavior, reducing its traction to a negligible level. This has, of course, been taken into account by the Cyclist, who carries out a visual survey of the traffic on both lanes of the Strip and decides that he doesn’t need to brake fully. On the contrary, he skillfully accelerates out of the skid and crosses the Strip, watched by two women at a bus stop, who are shocked at his audacity. There isn’t time to show off. He picks up speed on the tarmac, eighteen, nineteen, twenty feet a second, and now makes a wide curve to the right, perfect and safe. Shade Street is even bumpier than Reservation Street. He has no choice but to take one of the sidewalks. The one on the right offers the most exciting ride. Although deeply focused, the Urban Cyclist savors his secret: the sidewalks of residential streets in big cities. Nobody else recognizes them as the ultimate terrain for the practice of high-level radical stunt riding. He makes an S around two trees in close sequence, swerving first right, then left. In the foreground is the sound of his tires on the different kinds of sidewalk, the wind in his ears, the metallic taste of speed. Only he knows this pleasure. He crosses another street and returns to the sidewalk of the next block. He can see Guaíba Avenue, skirting the vast expanse of brown water. This is the homestretch.
The bike becomes airborne. He has made a mistake. He forgot the fifth tricky spot: the slimy sidewalk, a permanently moist section beneath a roof of treetops that does justice to the nickname
“Shade Street” and is always covered in slime. Almost zero traction. Slippery as soap. The bike went into a skid and he thought about throwing himself to the ground, but there wasn’t time, because the front wheel hit the low retaining wall of a tiny flower bed graced with a dozen pansies and camellias, and now he and the bike are sailing through the air, and now they are tumbling over the cobblestones of Shade Street, the Cyclist’s foot caught in the frame of his 20" Caloi with the foot brake, and they roll and slide together for several yards, leaving a wake of dust behind them.
The Urban Cyclist lies in the middle of the street for at least ten seconds, his leg still caught in the bike, while the neighborhood dogs bark in a frenzy. When his brain starts working again, the first thing that occurs to him is that his face must be deformed. He runs his hand over it and finds a little blood on his thumb. His tongue registers the sour taste and what appears to be a small flap of loose skin on his lower lip. He frees his leg from the bike, the right one, and examines it. A small white circle under his knee begins to sprout minuscule red dots, which become drops of blood that swell and start to run down his leg. Parts of his body that were numb begin to sting. A tickle in his nose, a knot in his throat, and he can’t hold back the tears. They aren’t tears of pain or of fear, really, although he is afraid, afraid of his face being deformed, of having to have stitches at the emergency room, of lots of things, but he cries above all out of frustration. Just as mountains can grow angry and greet the most able and respected climber with an avalanche, this time the sidewalk has greeted him with a surface of slimy stones and he has been brought down by his opponent in a moment of distraction, a stupid moment of distraction. He has fallen.
He is no longer the Urban Cyclist. Now he is just a ten-year-old boy. But the street is quiet, there are no cars or people around. It is almost three o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon and everyone is busy with something, no one is out and about, much less on a remote residential street in the southern suburbs where people don’t have much reason to leave their houses except to go to work or to run errands down- town. He decides to get up and go and look for help, maybe call home from a public phone and reverse the charges. He has no difficulty standing up. He wipes the blood from his mouth again. He wishes he had a mirror now—more than anything, a mirror. He walks toward Guaíba Avenue, where there are bars and a phone booth and people jogging. He is fine until he glances down at his knee. Through the wound—a hole half an inch in diameter and of considerable depth for a surface as devoid of padding as a knee—the blood now runs freely down his shin, drenching his white cotton socks. Something isn’t right. His legs feel weak and his entire body is covered with a fine sweat, very different from the sweat worked up previously through physical effort.
He looks for something to lean on, but can’t find anything. The dizziness is too much. He falls to the ground, on the sidewalk. And what he sees beside him, crouching there, is a kitten. A mottled gray kitten tied with a length of blue string to a barbed- wire fence. The improvised collar is no more than six inches long. The kitten looks weak but, feeling threatened, it meows and shows its teeth. Woozy, the Cyclist lifts his head and sees a little old lady closing a wooden gate and walking toward him. Perhaps influenced by the kitten, his first reaction is fear, but then he realizes that the old lady is his salvation, help. She leans over to console him.
“That was quite a tumble, child. Don’t cry, don’t cry, let me see.”
Her voice is a little hoarse, but at the same time sweet and contrived like that of a children’s TV show hostess. Her hair is light brown, her face is criss-crossed with fine, shallow wrinkles, and she has no neck. Her head looks as if it has been screwed straight on to her body. She is wearing a long skirt, which must have been red and is now a faded pink, and a light-beige jumper.
“Give Grandma a look. It’s nothing.”
After the good first impression, he begins to find her a little menacing and isn’t sure if he should trust her. The kitten is huddled against the barbed wire. The woman leans over. He notices she is missing two fingers from one hand. The little finger and the one next to it. The pinkie and the ring finger. “I think you bit your lip when you fell, child. It’ll
be better in no time. It’s nothing. No need to cry.” Being treated like a child adds a pinch of resentment to his feelings of misgiving. No one should ever be treated like a child, not even a child. And
he isn’t even crying any more.
Then she sees his knee, and the blood that has now run down his shin and is dripping onto the ground. She studies the wound for a moment and seems undecided as to what to do. He wants her to leave, hurry off and find someone with a car who can take him home. Or go back to wherever she came from, so that he can get up and race away in any direction, even though he is dizzy and injured. The kitten meows repeatedly, and only now does it occur to him that there is something very wrong about a kitten being tied so cruelly to a barbed-wire fence. There is only vegetation on the other side, but it was from there, from that plot of land, that the old lady appeared. Through gaps in the grass, he makes out parts of what appears to be a wooden shack patched together with sheets of plywood.
He toys half seriously with the thought that she might be a witch. If it’s true, she’s a good actress. Her expression is benevolent and maternal.
“That blood there, you know, that’s bad blood.” He looks at her with bulging, quizzical eyes. “You know there’s good blood and bad blood,
don’t you? Bad blood is that dark blood coming out there, it’s dirty blood. It runs just under the surface, like this, near the skin, see?” she says, showing him her own arm and running the tip of her index finger over her wrinkled brown skin. “Good blood is different, it’s lighter in color, almost pink, and it runs through the big veins, deep inside, through your flesh.” He notes that her drawl is from the interior. “That bad blood there, it’s good that it’s coming out. You’ve got to let it out, because then your body will make more of the good blood, the clean sort that runs through the inside, to replace the bad blood, understand?”
The woman pats his head and smiles. He looks at his knee again and sees that the blood really is dark. He tries to imagine the color of the good blood, so clean it’s almost pink. He has never seen this kind of blood, or at least he can’t remember having seen it. Maybe the blood he bled when his baby molars fell out. He remembers that when he spat, the blood was pretty light in color. But the blood oozing out now is definitely bad blood, full of impurities, as if it were dirty with coal soot, drawing lines across his almost hairless shin.
The more he thinks about it, the less queasy he feels about his injuries. He imagines an elaborate picture of every vein and artery running through him like a drain network, but made of muscle, soft flesh supported and articulated by bones. He swipes the blood on his leg with his index finger and then presses it to his thumb, feeling them stick together. He has stopped sweating and doesn’t feel dizzy any more. On the contrary, his energy is returning. His aches and pains are worse, but now he bears them with a certain pleasure. He stands, brushes himself off, finds several minor scratches on his elbows and shoulders, and goes to see how his bike has fared. The chain has come off, but he slots it back onto the sprockets, dirtying his fingers with the dark goo that is a mixture of lube and dust, and gives the pedal a quick half spin. With a click, the links of the chain reengage with the metal teeth. The old lady offers a few last words of comfort. Without answering, he climbs on his bike and begins to pedal home. The true Urban Cyclist cannot be fazed by wounds and bleeding resulting from the accidents that sooner or later happen. His knee continues to bleed all the way back up Reservation Street, shedding bad blood. A trickle of red runs from his lower lip over his chin and drips between his legs from time to time. It is as if cam- eras hidden behind lampposts are recording his physical tenacity, his dynamic recovery after a spectacular fall. Every red drop is awaited with anticipation.
Firmly gripping the steering wheel of the car he was about to drive for four days and three nights to the highest part of the Bolivian Plateau, he felt the queasiness typical of that last moment in which it still seems possible to turn your back on some- thing, although, deep down, you know you can’t because it was all decided and planned a long time ago. This useless hesitation was made even more uncomfortable by the pervasive six o’clock silence of this Saturday morning. Instead of turning the key in the ignition, he sat waiting for a sound, as if it might provide the finger-flick needed to propel him forward, make him start the car, drive to Renan’s place to pick him up at the agreed time, and set out on what promised to be the biggest adventure of his life. Adri had informed him the night before that she wouldn’t be getting up to see him off. So, from the moment the alarm on his mobile phone had begun to play The Addams Family theme song at 5:15 a.m., he had made as much noise as possible, peeing; washing his face; pulling on a pair of comfortable tracksuit bottoms, a polo shirt, running shoes, and a cap with the clinic’s logo on it; fixing himself a bowl of full-fat yogurt with granola and a ridiculous amount of honey, brushing his teeth; deliberately bumping into the bed and the stool in the walk-in wardrobe; tuning into an AM radio station for the weather forecast at an unnecessarily high volume; wandering back into the master bedroom and quickly leaving again; opening Nara’s bedroom door, almost disturbing her toddler sleep in the hope that it might soften his wife’s heart; opening and closing the trunk to peer at the bags he had packed, organized, and checked a zillion times the night before; going back inside for no reason and, finally, leaving, closing the garage for the last time, and angrily slamming the car door. But despite his efforts, Adri had kept her promise. She was probably still pretending to be asleep, waiting for the brief electric squeal of the ignition to start the combustion cycles of the pistons in the Mitsubishi Montero. He finally decided to give her the satisfaction and turned the key, revving a few times in neutral for the pleasure of breaking the silence, fantasizing that at that very moment, lying in bed, realizing that he really was going, she was feeling mortally sorry that she hadn’t given him a good-bye kiss, even if only on the cheek, and wished him good luck. Backing the car slowly down the parallel strips of granite that ran across the neat front lawn, he decided to turn off his mobile as soon as he hit the highway and wait two or three days before calling to check in. With the city streets deserted, he hoped to make it to Renan’s property in Vila Nova in twenty-five minutes at the most. He kept the car windows closed, and the noise of the tires on the irregular paving stones sounded faraway and soft, making him feel as if he were inside an aquarium, cut off from the world. He opened the driver’s window all the way and everything transformed, starting with the crunching sound of the tires. The sun, no doubt rising behind a building, cast a hazy pinkish- yellow light over the houses, buildings, trees, and cobblestones of Bela Vista’s side streets. The heroic stars lingered in the sky, which had ceased to be nocturnal about five, maximum ten, minutes earlier. The air was cool and saturated with oxy- gen. He drew it into his lungs through his nose, filling his alveoli to the brim, and held his breath for a few seconds. In a few days he and Renan would be 13,420 feet above sea level in a guest- house in Potosí, which shared the title of the highest city on the planet with Lhasa, in Tibet, lying on bunk beds, resting up and ingesting large volumes of liquid until they were properly acclimatized, trying not to ruin everything at the outset with a
pulmonary embolism. When he turned on to Carlos Trein Filho Street, which would take him to Nilo Peçanha Avenue, he remembered the question that Renan had asked out of the blue as they rested on the top of Cruz Rock, late on a Sunday after- noon in April, almost seven months earlier. They had just climbed the “Via Prosciutto Crudo,” as Renan had christened it. After a two-week climb- ing vacation in Sardinia, in August 2002, Renan had started giving his climbs random names in Ital- ian. That was probably the best weekend they had spent in Minas do Camaquã, a ghostly village near a set of rocky formations that looked like a sequence of four giant waves of solid rock pushing up out of a landscape of rolling hills and rivers. Situated in Brazil’s deep south, the village dated back to the early twentieth century, when copper, gold, and silver were discovered in the region. Mining had ceased when the reserves were depleted in the mid-
1990s. The village was now inhabited by one or two hundred families, mostly retired miners, and its abandoned houses and streets, set in a landscape mutilated by mining, gave a charming end-of-the- world atmosphere to a place that was already naturally isolated. He, Renan, and a small group of fellow gym members were among the first climbers to start visiting the region. They’d travel the 185 miles from Porto Alegre to Minas do Camaquã early on the Saturday morning, spend the day climbing and the night barbecuing, climb a little more on the Sunday, and return that night, Renan to the indoor climbing walls of Condor, the gym he owned, and he to his practice and the operating rooms of Mãe de Deus Hospital. To him, climbing had always been a way to test his physical and mental limits, an enjoyable exercise in muscular resistance and concentration, practiced with discipline and regularity. It had become an integral part of his daily life, but when he managed to take a break from his patients and join the group from Condor for a weekend outing, it became something more, a set of parentheses in the more or less predictable flow of his professional and family life. To Renan, on the other hand, climbing was his routine. When he wasn’t working as instructor and managing partner at Condor or teaching rock climbing to private groups and institutions, he was somewhere in Brazil, Latin America, or the world, on climbs with difficulty ratings of 9 or 10 on the Brazilian scale, amassing gigabytes in digital photographs to record his considerable climbing feats, like when he free-climbed the Massa Crítica, in Rio, in record time, and what he called the “Francobolo,” currently considered the most difficult route in Brazil’s south, a 10b climb that involved walking across the ceiling of Terceira Légua Cave,
in Caxias do Sul, with explosive-sounding foot- steps. Although the relationship between their egos and climbing was somewhat different, he and Renan had been fast friends ever since they’d met at Condor, and whenever their agendas coincided they’d go away for weekend climbs, on an average of ten times a year over the last three years. They’d been to Itacolomi, Torres, Cotiporã, Salto Ventoso, Pico da Canastra, and Ivoti. But their favorite des- tination was Minas do Camaquã, where camping on the Saturday night was so much fun, with bon- fires and conversations that stretched into the night, that on one occasion he’d convinced Adri to leave Nara with his parents and go with him, despite the fear she felt when she saw other human beings dangling from great heights, a fear he had jokingly defined as “vicarious acrophobia,” which Renan had described as “just plain shitting herself.” She had fallen in love with the natural beauty of the place, asked what the snap hooks, figure eights and magnesium were for, wanted to know how long the ropes were and how they attached the bolts to the rock. She had even climbed some four- teen or fifteen feet before starting to scream in panic. That night she’d smoked a lot of marijuana, drunk a lot of wine, and joined in teasing him about the fact that he didn’t drink or smoke. She and Keyla, Renan’s girlfriend and pupil, had hit it off and spent a good hour deep in hushed conversation. Seeing how quickly their partners had become friendly, Renan had started to mumble in his ear. Most of it was unintelligible, but he made out the word “swing,” which was typical of Renan. That night Adri was petulant, incoherent, and merry, she had her drunk face on, and he was happy to see her like that. But that was the first and last time she had gone climbing with him. She simply lost interest, as if she’d exhausted every possibility for enjoyment in a single trip. He and Renan had kept going, however. More and more, he needed the endorphins, the adrenaline, and the almost meditative mental state of rock climbing. Renan needed to keep on doing what he did best: rising to new challenges on rock faces with the grace of a dancing spider, braving new routes that would be repeated and respected by countless other climbers. And that April day, while resting and admiring the view from the top of Cruz Rock, Renan had asked, without taking his eyes off the landscape, “Wanna try something totally Heart of Darkness?” Still on a high from the climb, he’d been watching a hawk perched on the enormous white cross that gave the place its name. The hawk had just taken flight, flapping its wings against an orange sky streaked with white cloud.
“Try what?” he asked, wrenched out of his daydream. Instead of
paying attention to Renan, he began to visualize the descent, which would have to be soon, before it got too dark. Rappelling down was always the part that made him the most nervous. Just as most car accidents take place less than five minutes from the driver’s destination, the descent is the part in which a climber is most relaxed, hurried, and distracted. Renan waited a few seconds before speaking again. “Ever thought about ice climbing?” He knew Renan had taken a course in Bariloche and had climbed a few snowy mountains in the Argentinean Andes, which is why he thought he had something in that region in mind. “I’ve never thought about it, but it sounds interesting.” “There’s this idea I can’t shake, man, a project I can’t get out of my head.” “You want to climb the Aconcagua with your hands tied behind your back?” He expected Renan to laugh, but instead his friend interlaced his fingers and used his right hand to crack the metacarpophalangeal joints of his left, which popped like the little air capsules in bubble wrap. “I need a partner for a trip, an expedition, actually. Someone who’s got the time and is game to invest in some gear, drive for several days, trek out into the middle of nowhere, and spend some time on a mountain. Reckon you’re up to some- thing like that?” His question seemed to anticipate a negative response and was a subtle challenge, which was common between the two friends when it came to climbing, since Renan was better at the sport in every way and his main motivation was bettering records and feats, preferably other people’s. “Where?” “The Andes.” “OK, but have you got a specific mountain in mind?” Renan stopped staring at the horizon and turned to face him. “Ever heard of Cerro Bonete?” A few neurons sparked in his head, because yes, he had heard of the mountain, in an article in the Canadian magazine Gripped, if he wasn’t mistaken. A volcanic peak whose summit was some twenty-two thousand feet above sea level, near the Aconcagua in northeastern Argentina. “Yeah, I’ve heard of it,” he replied smugly, feeling like a specialist. “Isn’t it a volcano in Argentina?” “Yes, well, there’s that Cerro Bonete, which is near the Aconcagua, in the province of La Rioja. It’s twenty-two thousand, one hundred and something feet high and climbers used to turn their noses up at it, but it’s become more popular recently. But that’s not the one I’m talking about.” Renan feigned nonchalance as he spoke, but he was going somewhere, he obviously wanted to talk about something that had been an object of fascination to him for some time. He paused to create an air of suspense, forcing him to ask, “So there’s another Cerro Bonete, then?” “There are at least three or four, as far as I know. ‘Bonete’ means
some kind of hat in Spanish, and there’s a shitload of mountains with the name in the Andes. But the Bonete I’m talking about is special. To begin with, it’s in Bolivia. In the south, almost on the Argentinean border.” “OK. So what’s so special about it?” “It’s hard to say, ’cause no one’s ever climbed it. It appears on a few maps and in satellite pictures, but its exact height isn’t known. I found a page on the Net that says it’s eighteen thousand, two hundred and forty feet.” “Not one of the tallest.” “What matters is that it’s unknown. Hardly anything about the region has been documented. There are no roads, no towns, fuck all. The motherfucker is on the edge of a volcanic crater with a three- or four-mile diameter. You should see the aerial photos. There are some on the Net. It’s awesome.” He knew Renan was serious. Climbing the highest peaks on each continent was already banal to him. Not that they were easy, but lots of people had done them before.
He liked to say “There are package tours to the top of Everest” to illustrate his theory that the true challenges in mountain climbing today were on the most difficult rock faces and on the planet’s few mountains that still had a peak or face untouched by ice axes and crampons. An unknown, mysterious mountain would certainly motivate him to leave the comfort of his home and invest in an expedition. Something that hadn’t been done before
Excerpted from "The Shape of Bones"
Copyright © 2019 Daniel Galera.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
From talented Brazilian writer, Daniel Galera, and newly translated into English comes, The Shape of Bones. It’s the story of one man’s struggle to come to terms with his own personal demon. To the outside world, Hermano Weissmann has it made. He is a very successful plastic surgeon, married with one child whom he adores. Below the surface though, he is a tormented man. With richly drawn characters and elegant prose, the story alternates between his fifteen year old self and his thirty year old self, with the majority of the story taking place in his past. At first I thought the protagonist was a masochist, he had such little regard for his own safety, but the truth comes out in the end. it’s a brutal, intense observation of a tortured man’s psyche. This slim volume is an excellent read.