Sunday, August 16, 2009

Guillermo Rosales: The Halfway House

Beatriz Terrazas reviews Guillermo Rosales' The Halfway House

The Halfway House is a violent tale about a mentally ill Cuban exile. Though fiction, the book is based on the author's own life.
Guillermo Rosales fled Cuba in 1979 and, due to severe schizophrenia, spent much time in what were called boarding homes or halfway houses in Miami. Ostensibly for people who needed psychiatric help, they were dumping grounds for those considered unfit for society.
The book is narrated by William Figueras, a writer who by 15 "had read the great Proust, Hesse, Joyce, Miller, Mann," and who claims to have been driven mad by Cuba's communist regime.
The halfway house, he says, is where the "desperate and hopeless go – crazy ones for the most part, with a smattering of old people abandoned by their families to die of loneliness so they won't screw up life for the winners."
Though in Miami just six months, he has been in three psych wards. The boarding home is his last stop. There, meals are served raw, and the toilets are "always clogged since some of the residents stick in them old shirts, sheets, curtains and other cloth materials that they use to wipe their behinds."
In less than 24 hours he witnesses a rape and becomes complicit in the many crimes, large and small, committed in the house.

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