Book Review: Out In The Open by Jesús Carrasco

From inside his hole in the ground, he heard the sound of voices calling his name, and as if they were crickets, he tried to pinpoint the precise location of each man within the bounds of the olive grove. The desolate howling of fire scorched scrub. He was lying on one side, knees drawn up to his chest, with barely enough room to move in that cramped space. His arms either around his knees or serving as a pillow, and only a tiny niche for his knapsack of food. He had made a roof out of pruned twigs which he had piled on top of two think branches that served as beams. Tensing his neck, he raised his head so as to hear better and, half closing his eyes, listened our for the voice that forced him to flee.

The story opens in the midst of the action, our narrator buried beneath his makeshift thatched roof to provide urgent protection and camouflage from his pursuers. He is a young boy, recently escaped from the unknown horrors of his village and the deception he experienced at the hands of his family. Though ill-prepared, he is determined to survive what ever may lay beyond the outskirts of his village boundary.

The plain before him gave off a smell of parched earth and dry grass as it slowly recovered from the rigors of the sun. A gray owl flew over his head and disappeared among the trees. This was the first time he had been this far from the village. What lay ahead was, quite simply, unknown territory.

Forced out by circumstances that become clearer as the story moves along, he has set out with meager provisions; a small wineskin full of water and a days worth of food. He is a smart young man with many skills; headstrong and persevering. However, he is also weary and suspicious of unsolicited kindness- these feelings are borne from his recent torment.

He had left no room in his calculations for perhaps having to ask for help, far less at such an early stage in his journey. The truth was, he hadn’t really prepared for his departure at all. One day, he had simply reached a point of no return, and from the moment on, the idea of running away became a necessary illusion that helped him withstand the inferno of silence in which he was living.

When his water runs dry and his stomach aches with hunger, he stumbles along a goatherd asleep in the shade of a tree with his hat tipped to cover his eyes. Desperation takes hold of the young boy, and he endeavors to steal from the old man. His attempt is thwarted from the first, but rather than be apprehended or punished the man offers food and water with a generosity unknown to our narrator.

They work together to traverse the bleak, scalding terrain of the plain before them; sharing very little in the way of conversation, but much in the way of experience. And it is through these experiences that the young boy learns the skills necessary to endure and the means essential to prosper.

“Have you seen the halo surrounding the head of the Christ up above?”

“Yes, it has three rays of light coming out of it.”

“ That’s right, well, one represents memory, another understanding and the third determination.” The boy looked up. He could see the figure silhouetted black against the evening light and could make out the tunic, the hands and the rays. The boy was touched by what the old man had told him, and for a moment, he forgot his worries.

“Christ suffered too.”

“But I don’t want to suffer anymore.”

Despite the physical distance that is now between the boy and his village, he still cannot shake the fear of what he left back home. The wickedness of his past haunts his dreams and threatens to undo him. Ashamed of his distress, he does all he can to hide it from his new companion.

The boy heard the word “bailiff” on the lips of the goatherd and felt the blood burning in his heels, felt the heat rising up from ground and scorching him inside as only shame can. Hearing the name of Satan on the lips of another and feeling how that word tore down the walls he had built around his ignominy. Standing naked before the old man and the world.

Though it quickly becomes clear that the boy and the old man share a common enemy. And when the villainous bailiff manages to track them down the old man attempts to shelter the boy; sacrificing what he can of his frail body. The boy awaits his fate, resigned to whatever may come.

He then finds himself face-to-face with the ultimate test of his character, strength and bravery. Can he set aside the unrelenting fear that grips him in order to protect the old man that has so selflessly protected him thus far?

All his tension evaporated and he felt it rise up to join the warm, ascending current of air given off by the wall. He sat down beside the blanket and, resting his elbows on his knees, covered his face with his hands and wept. His childish flight, the searing sun, the bleak, indifferent plain. He sensed the immutability of his surrounding, the same inertness in everything he could touch or see, and for the first time since he had run away, he felt afraid of dying.

This is the tale of a perilous journey through an unfamiliar and desolate land where the most unexpected of friendships is born. Written with elegant, artistic prose, Out In The Open by Jesús Carrasco slowly unfurls like a vibrant budding flower and will dazzle with its profound and unforeseen beauty.

The fat drops burst on impact with the dust ground but did not penetrate. He want back into the house and emerged carrying the water pitcher under his arm. He left the pitcher on the ground a few feet away from the house. The he went back and stood in the doorway for as long as the rain lasted, watching as God temporarily slackened the screws on his torment.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Riverhead Books.

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