The Shape of Bones by Daniel Galera

The Shape of Bones

Daniel Galera

The Shape of Bones is an exhilarating story of mythic power; a pulse-racing novel with the otherworldly wisdom of a parable.

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"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 Bonete--a mountain untouched by ice axes and climbers, one of the planet's final mountains to be conquered--as 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.

Advance Galley Reviews

Daniel Galera writes in poetry. I adore this book, which surprised me. Normally, I don't go for coming of age novels, or novels that have a significant coming of age plot mixed in. The last book I read with one of these plots was at least five years ago. What stands out to me about The Shape of Bones is that it's not just a coming of age story about a kid, it's also about him coming of age a second time in his thirties. Hermano is a daredevil in youth and adulthood, fascinated by pain and blood, engineering injuries by taking spectacular falls off his bicycle over the years. As an adult, he rock climbs with a guy who is always looking for the next thrill, harder ascents, and places not traveled by other climbers. They plan a trip to an untouched mountain, taking months to get the right equipment and plan their route. The morning they are supposed to set out, Hermano makes a decision and drives past his friend's house and continues down the road to his childhood hometown. He's going to revisit his past instead. I really enjoyed the flashbacks to his childhood throughout the book. Most of them seem to focus around a short span of time in his midteens, leading up to the major defining moment of his life. As an adult, Hermano has some regrets leftover from his youth, and now he is trying to come to terms with the last five years of his life as a married up-and-coming plastic surgeon. We don't know how his story ends, only that it isn't going to be the same when he finally decides what to do next. But, along the way, we watch him do something he should have done 15 years prior, hopefully coming to terms finally with the outcome of the original event. I really like that there is no solid ending to the story, because it leaves open both hope and cynicism for the reader.

This was a good solid read. I did not find that I had a lot in common with the protagonist, however I was really drawn to the depth of the characters and their voices. I think that we all have moments in life that we wish we could do over and these things become the shapes of our bones. I will anticipate further books by this author.

Teenage years are often the most formative of how someone will behave as an adult; The Shape of Bones by Daniel Galera tells the story of how a man was shaped by certain events in his boyhood.  Going on a trip to climb the yet-to-be-conquered icy mountain Cerro Bonete, a man's impulsive decision leads him to instead travel through the neighborhood he grew up in, Esplanada. While revisiting his former home he's bombarded with memories from his youth, some of which are positive and enjoyable, but many of which have a sadness and burden to them that he still carries with him today. When confronted with a chance to act in a situation similar to the one that scared him in his youth, he takes action, which then spurs him to more deeply consider himself as a person.  The structure of the story was engaging as it flipped between the past and the present to offer explanations for how this man's life turned out; however, it took a while for the pieces to connect as two parts of one whole, leaving me questioning the point of the seemingly disparate narrative threads. It was interesting how the main character hadn't really developed emotionally beyond his formative youth, as demonstrated in his actions and his constant defining himself in relation to those around him well into his adulthood. I did enjoy the fascination exhibited in overthinking the mechanical side of bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles working in tandem to pilot the meat vessel that is a human body because it's something that I have also thought of on occasion but hadn't ever taken the time to put into words.  Overall, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

This is a story of a man who is facing up to his formative past after running from it for a long time. It's a good story and well told, and I love it for that. There are a lot of stray strands in the story, bits of things here and there that seem awfully important to not be woven into the larger pattern, but this is the second Galera book I've read and that seems to be something he likes to do. The man who leaves his home early in the morning for an expedition quite different from the one he actually takes is not fully formed and not entirely thinking clearly. He left his childhood home only a few years before to be well off, married with a child, and he lives a life very different from any that seemed accessible in his childhood. I think many will put this in the coming-of-age genre, but it's an uncomfortable fit -- it's not clear how much maturing he has done, whether he did it then or is doing it now, or undoing it now. It's more a case of his past jumping up and grabbing ahold of him in this moment, and we share that peculiar morning with him. But again, it's well written and good for discussion and I'd read more of the author's work even if I come out a little puzzled. I got a copy to review from First to Read.


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