Fast-paced thriller “Polvo” available now
Polvo, the latest novel by Dr. Javier Ávila, is a fast-paced thriller depicting the life of a man who moves between two worlds. It is also a portrait of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States, told from the perspective of an outsider who must adapt to life as he returns to the island. The book is intense, irreverent, and moves toward a shocking ending. It is written in Spanish and published by Libros AC, who also issued Ávila’s earlier works, Vapor: Selected Poem (Poesía selecta/Selected Poems), a bilingual collection, and The Oldest Profession, a novel.
Polvo is narrated in the first person by Vicente Acevedo, a womanizer, liar, seducer, translator, and ultimately, a killer. As he reviews his life, he ponders how he arrived at a moment in which everything he once prized is crumbling.
Vicente returns to Puerto Rico from Pennsylvania to tie up loose ends upon learning of his mother’s death. At her funeral, the labyrinth that his mother has built from her grave reopens wounds from long ago, and he discovers secrets and clues his mother has left him about his real identity. This insight propels Vicente to revisit the past to solve these mysteries. Suddenly his life is turned upside down as he is forced to confront his greatest fears. His story shifts, chapter by chapter, between Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania.
“Vicente was a difficult and interesting character to portray,” says Ávila. “He doesn’t know how to behave when faced with the death of his mother because he has never been genuine, always having faked emotion.” Although he is dishonest, Vicente never presents himself as artificial; instead he appears as an ordinary man. Forever in control, he knows how to dress and act to make his true self invisible while he is behaving immorally. He is punctilious, seeking a particular kind of woman, and all the “right” conditions. His rules, in his pursuit of women, include avoiding intimacy with those who are attached to him in any way.
While Polvo has an exciting plot that is at times humorous, it also explores profound philosophical questions. The title, which works on several levels, has multiple meanings, principally “dust.” Literally, dust envelops Vicente as he remodels his mother’s house. Metaphorically, it follows him as he repeats the womanizing ways of his father. He cannot escape it. The word “polvo” in Spanish is also a euphemism for lovemaking, which is at the heart of the protagonist’s unscrupulous lifestyle. Dust is also a mask that hides Vicente, but dirties him at the same time. Nevertheless, as when water is hit by dust, the character, like the substance, changes as the story progresses.
Vicente’s occupation is also metaphoric as a form of invisibility. “The greatest thing for Vicente about being a translator is that he is invisible,” Ávila says. “A translator wants his work to look natural,” just as the character strives to hide his artifice.
What motivates Vicente? Ultimately, Ávila says, Vicente is protecting himself from being human, from experiencing guilt and the fear of loss.
For Vicente, self-knowledge is hard to obtain, despite his need for control. “You’d never expect for someone as methodical as Vicente to have his life fall apart so suddenly,” Ávila says. “In the end, despite our best efforts, we have almost no control. We don’t have it all figured out.”
Polvo is available through Amazon and in bookstores in Puerto Rico. A book launch will take place on August 15 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Ávila is the author of 15 publications, including the award-winning La simetría del tiempo, The Dead Man’s Position, and Different, a psychological thriller that was made into the internationally acclaimed movie, Miente.