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

This novel follows two story lines. The first is a young boy who gains attention by riding his bike as recklessly as possible, constantly crashing and injuring himself in the process. He's trying to figure out where he belongs in his small, tight-knit community, and attaches himself to various other boys in an attempt to fit in. The second story follows a man as he mentally prepares to climb a mountain, previously untouched by axes and climbers. He's reflecting on parts of his past, trying to determine what led him to the life he's currently leading. The young boy's story is far more interesting than the adult's, as the boy is surrounded by action and dialogue, whereas the man is mostly just thinking.

I loved the authors first book. I just couldn't relate to The Shape of Bones. I finished reading it, but it was a struggle. The wrong genre for me.

The description of The Shape of Bones by Daniel Galera, if you notice, very carefully names no characters. That is both the foundation and the confusion of this story. The connection between the past and present takes a while to understand. After that point, though, the book settles into the story. The power of the story is in the last few chapters where intensity and emotion does start to build and the secret moment of the past is finally revealed. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

I enjoyed the memorable characters and vivid atmosphere created by Daniel Galera in his previous offering, Blood Drenched Beard, so naturally I was excited to receive a free copy of his newest book, The Shape of Bones, via Penguin's First to Read program. Emotionally, I did not connect as much with this title, although intellectually I was still able to appreciate the author's obvious gift for language.

Daniel Galera's The Shape of Bones is both strangely melodic and mechanical, as Hermano oscillates between both past and present and interior expectations and external realities. The disparity between the two is enhanced by the disparity in the narrative between Hermano and Hands in the past and the present. Though they are the same person, we can see how essentially different adult Hermano is from the dreaming boy of his childhood and the choices that altered the mythical what could have been. With less certainty and more lifelike contemplation than a coming of age novel, The Shape of Bones tells us this story in reverse where childhood isn't something only to overcome and shape us into the adults we are meant to be, but something that crawls back up, hauntingly, to grasp at our legs while we are running and remind us of the uncertainty and unpredictability that never truly goes away despite our best efforts. A sincerely magnificent and humbling read.

Despite the pretentious tone of the first chapter, this turned out to be a good book overall. The one-paragraph chapters of the adult half of the narrative are tough to get through, and I thought they were a formatting error until I realized they probably represented the compacted time frame. Effective, in that respect, but not reader friendly. But I repeat, good book overall.

It's hard to decide what to say about this novel because I wasn't sure where it was going, but I was interested enough to keep reading. This novel is divided into the past (marked by chapter titles) and the present (marked by time). Hermano is a great character because he rides the line of likability and dislike for me, which I feel makes him more realistic. He's self-involved and introspective, yet he honestly cares about his family. He's cowardly, yet regrets it. In his story he has one big regret and I don't think he's alone in wanting to go back and make it right, in almost waiting for an opportunity to replay the situation and make the right choices this time around. Considering it wasn't until the end of the novel that it became obvious what the story was truly about I would have preferred a more concrete ending as to what Hermano decides to do with his life. It felt too open.

This story is disjointed, skipping from seemingly unrelated people--a young cyclist, then a teen in a poor neighborhood, then an adult man in a difficult marriage. It isn't until halfway through that it's clear that these three people are, in fact, one person. And it's only then that something begins to happen--when he makes a decision not to follow his plans and head to his old neighborhood. This, from the blurb, I gather, is when things actually begin to happen--somewhere past page 127 of 234. They'll have to happen without me, though, because that is far too long to flounder in weird dreams, fantasies, and fragmented moments of a life. The story is dreamlike and violent, weirdly disconnected, and not terribly interesting to read. If it has a message, it isn't for me, because I found it vague and unpleasant.

Hard to get into this book. Some of the characters were well developed, others formed a backdrop. The storyline was just not for me. Might appeal to a coming of age audiences. Liked the concise chapter development.

The Shape of Bones was a chance book for me. It doesn't really fall in my perferred genres. The compendium was interesting so I gave it ago,but from chapter 3 I just knew it wasn't my thing. I kept losing interest throughout the book. I don't say this to discourage other readers. Perhaps this is for those have more patience and time to pass. Unfortunately, this book wasn't for me and I couldn't bring myself to finish it. Thanks for the ARC and I hope future readers enjoy this book more than I did.

Good book.Nice writen with vivid characters and a good storyline.I highly recommend it for fiction readers.Thank you for the free copy.

I just could not get into this book. The writing wasn't bad, it just didn't pull me into the story and grab my attention. I felt more like I needed to read it because I got it from Penguin Random House First to Read Program but I just can't do it. I have way too many books to spend time on one that doesn't distract me and pull me into the lives of the characters.

The Shape of Bones is kind of hard to describe for me. Essentially it follows two stories set in two different time periods, one about a young plastic surgeon leaving to climb a mountain with his friend Renan, the other set in the past, maybe, about a group of teenagers, of whom the plastic surgeon was apparently one (never explicitly stated), though other than a few characters, no one gets any real names, only nicknames. I can't really tell a whole lot about the plot without giving something very important away, but the events in the two timelines run rather parallel. It's really hard to do this book justice because I was never sure where this book was going until it got there. It was a bit like being in the center of a tornado or hurricane, with events spiraling around you. Is it a coming of age story? Yes, I think so, but the coming of age mostly happens to the adult main character, not the group of teenagers in the past. It was a really interesting read and I hope more of this author's books are translated into English. I've seen this book compared to Junot Diaz's "Oscar Wao" book, but where that was more like a punch to the face, The Shape of Bones is like spinning around a whirlpool, then getting sucked under. It has a very languid and lyrical feel; the tones are completely different and I don't feel it does either justice to compare them to one another. Both are good, but for very different reasons.

The Shape of Bones begins with the Urban Cyclist, Hermano as a youth, on a wild ride further enhanced in his imaginary world. He dodges danger, making adjustments to avoid disaster and pushing forward at breakneck speed, all the while self-narrating his exploits. His sidekick is a trusty 20” Caloi BMX with a footbreak and red balloon tires. This opening scene harkens back to the adventures of Calvin and Hobbes or perhaps Walter Mitty. Initially, there is an innocence to the inner workings of Hermano’s mind, but as he grows older real life darkens his thoughts, and (possible tiny spoiler alert) Hermano perhaps is more reminiscent of Henry Fleming. Moving from boy vs. world, Hermano’s opponents become circumstance and memory. Imaginary adventure turns to an ongoing engagement with blood and drama. The story is set in Esplanada, Brazil, which offers a colorful backdrop to a plot filled with darkness. Comparisons are already being made between Daniel Galera and the Coen brothers, so irony and bizarre humor is expected and delivered. As the story continues to develop, Hermano is wrought by “shameful perversions” and, worse, a secret that has driven every decision he’s made since he was 15. The plot braids flashbacks of adolescent misbehavior and confusion with the linear timeline of Hermano’s adult (con)quest. Risky opportunities, both real and imagined, abound. His teenage identity issues plague and nip at him, drawing him into dangerous situations. Yet, this sort of death wish comes with a strong sense of detachment, filtered through a camera he envisions in his mind. The self-narration at the story’s start is typical of Hermano, an observer of his own actions whether mundane or noteworthy. Having become practiced at standing outside himself, he has a hard time knowing what he feels. Consider Hermano’s thought process while at a neighborhood girl’s birthday party: --Maybe he should go home right now, change out of his jeans and into a pair of shorts, grab his Walkman and earphones, get his bike out of the garage, and pedal through the night like a madman while listening to Motörhead full blast, until his legs grew weak and his calves cramped up. As he considered the possibility, he wasn’t sure if it was what he really wanted to do, if it was just what he thought he should do, or if it was what he would have liked everyone else to know he had done. Or was it what he would have liked, somehow, to be seen doing? He thought that somewhere in this questioning, or in the actual act of a senseless ride through the night, lay a decisive clue to his identity, the merging point of the person he was, the person he thought he was, and the person everyone else saw.-- Teen angst indeed. Hermano’s coming of age is stunted by a terrible event, such that even though we meet an adult Hermano years later, he is still in the midst of his maturation. Enter his friend, Renan. Renan is obsessed with being first, being fastest, being best in risky sports. He is the friend bound to get Hermano into trouble, always pushing to do things beyond his comfort zone, past self-set limitations, homing in on Hermano’s secret longings to prove himself a hero. Renan is not the catalyst, rather he is like the salt in the wound. The flashbacks slowly reveal the underlying reasons why Hermano is the person he has become. He is an adult with intellectual gifts, who has found success as a doctor, is married to a beautiful artist, and is raising a happy, loving child. Hermano also is the adult who has squandered his medical talents to become a highly sought after plastic surgeon to the rich and dissatisfied. He engages in behavior calculated to drive his wife further away. He often leaves his family behind to pursue physical adventures with Renan meant to create some sense of thrill, some kind of feeling. His accomplishments have done nothing more than domesticate his youthful desire for blood and drama. The novel excels at vivid imagery and metaphor. In a part of town where construction is in progress, the lamp posts are laid out, and to Hermano look like grave markers. Some dream sequences are semi-Dostoevskian, involving man’s more brutal side. And there is a moment of beauty sadly ignored. Hermano is driving to get Renan for another, very dangerous adventure. Upon seeing a beautiful fig tree, he wants nothing more than to park the car, sit beneath the tree, have a moment of peace and hopefully entice an epiphany. Instead of having fruitful thought under the tree, he keeps driving, and the opportunity is lost, which is exactly the root of his troubles. As both plots progress, the reader feels increased detachment from the characters and incidents. There is a cushiony wall built into the narrative that stops the reader from absorbing the full effect of the novel. When horrid, bloody, graphic violence does occur, other than the ick factor, there isn’t the emotional turbulence one would expect to feel. Perhaps the author has been too successful in transferring Hermano’s distanced observation. The external world is far beyond the imagined inner world of a boy. This is why the night of joy with future wife Adri was so important—it had intensity, which Hermano craves. But other than that one moment of frisson, adult Hermano is clinical. He is scientific in the cold, analytical sense of the word. Stylistically, this results in the narrator having to show an event then tell what it signifies. The camera has been successful in capturing action, but as must be the case, the camera cannot actually relate the subtext. The ending is a little too pat. The concluding flashback belies the adult co-plot, creating a final but massive irony. Nonetheless, this novel is refreshingly different from other coming of age novels.

A 30 year old doctor starts out to pick up his friend to go on a rock climbing adventure and winds up changing his life, even though he neither meets his friend nor reaches the mountain. I'm actually assuming that Hermano's life will be changed by his trip down memory lane in his old neighborhood, because the ending of the book is annoyingly unresolved. It's entirely possible that he won't change anything and will continue to act like a thrill seeking adolescent to cover his feelings of inadequacy. Who knows? The parts of the book describing the 15 year old Hermano felt very real, although I couldn't really relate to his emphasis on physical and dangerous challenges. Maybe it's more of a male thing. I thought the book was well written and I would read more by this author. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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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