THE NIGHT BUFFALO by Guillermo Arriaga (Atria), 228 pages, $33 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Turning the pages of the night Buffalo is like struggling under the weight of the great beast on your chest.
With this story of two friends' descent into madness and self-destruction, Mexican novelist and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, whose films include Amores Perros and 21 Grams, has created another masterpiece of claustrophobia.
Set in a barely sketched-in Mexico City of car interiors, motel rooms, nondescript residential districts and evening downpours, every scene is cinematic, the story relayed in a series of tight close-ups.
Manuel is an architecture student bored with his classes, his friends and his middle-class family when his best friend, Gregorio, recently released from a mental institution, shoots himself in the head, bequeathing Manuel a mysterious box of clues.
It seems the muchachos had a curious friendship: they get matching buffalo tattoos, pick fights with gangbangers to experience pain, and outdo each other at telling lies. Manuel's ultimate betrayal has been sleeping with both Gregorio's girlfriend and his sister, and he becomes convinced that Gregorio killed himself so he could torment him from the grave.
A cloud of impending doom as thick as Mexico City smog hangs over everything. Violence and machismo simmer just under the surface. A gun appears and lingers, a bizarre event erupts at Chapultepec Park zoo.
There's not a break, not a pause in the pacing as events charge toward the conclusion. The atmosphere reeks of betrayal, corruption and a sad inevitability. And when the end comes, it's more with a whimper than a bang.
The Night Buffalo is one of the most depressing books I've read in a long time, but it's worth it for Arriaga's unrelenting craftsmanship.