Pedro Mairal's The Woman from Uruguay follows a contemporary Argentine writer named Lucas for a single fateful Tuesday, as he travels from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and back again. Lucas narrates these events, with flashes forward and back in time, in a lengthy direct address to his wife, Catalina. "You told me I talked in my sleep. That's the first thing I remember." He is stumbling, if not entirely failing, as a writer, in debt to nearly everyone he knows, and fairly sure that Catalina is cheating on him. The purpose of the day trip to Uruguay is ostensibly to collect a significant sum of money in cash (advances on two books), which Lucas expects will change his fortunes. His hidden, secondary purpose is to visit the titular woman with whom Lucas has been captivated since they met at a writers' festival months earlier. He calls her Guerra--war--and is obsessed by their so-far-unconsummated affair.
Lucas is self-pitying, a bit sleazy in his adulterous aspirations and at best a mediocre husband and father. But readers will be drawn in by the mysterious Guerra and the pathetic and darkly comic narrative of Lucas's unlucky day. He can be woefully misguided by desire (for Guerra, for escape from responsibility), artful in his telling (Lucas is a writer, after all), wry, clever and even wise. The translation from Spanish by Jennifer Croft (Homesick) handles such moods and idiosyncrasies perfectly. Readers may not be precisely rooting for Lucas to get what he wants (which is a bit unclear even to Lucas), but they will certainly be eager to find out what happens next. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia