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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Like Flies from Afar

K. Ferrari

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To purchase Like Flies from Afar

Title: Like Flies from Afar
Author: K. Ferrari
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 205 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Like Flies from Afar - US
Que de lejos parecen moscas - US (Spanish)
Like Flies from Afar - UK
Like Flies from Afar - Canada
De loin on dirait des mouches - France
Da lontano sembrano mosche - Italia
Que de lejos parecen moscas - España
  • Spanish title: Que de lejos parecen moscas
  • Translated by Adrian Nathan West

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sharp, and nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Imparcial . 4/3/2018 D.G.Irala
The LA Times . 25/3/2020 David L. Ulin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/3/2020 David Gordon
El País . 5/2/2018 Carles Geli
World Lit. Today . Spring/2020 Kevin Canfield

  From the Reviews:
  • "Este uso del narrador consigue amplificar la acción de un modo brutal y nada anodino, quedando en el lector su voz tan presente como la reflexión camusiana de que después de cierta edad todos somos responsables de nuestro rostro. El tiempo de la ficción, a pesar de la brevedad del texto, son seis intrépidas horas o asaltos boxísticos en un día, en los que se sumerge en un infierno tan poderoso que nos deja noqueados, producto de la necesidad de sobrevivir con uppercuts y derechazos en la mejilla a su propia autodestrucción" - Daniel González Irala, El Imparcial

  • "Like Flies From Afar is, in other words, an existential mystery, in which corruption emerges from the inside and the most pressing dangers are those we bring upon ourselves. (...) For all that, Like Flies From Afar is hardly a work of literary gamesmanship. Instead, it offers contrapuntal pleasures -- a propulsive chase across Buenos Aires as well as a finely rendered portrait of a man so enraptured by his wealth and power that he has lost sight, if he ever had it, of his frailty." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Subtlety is not something Ferrari has time for. He barrels through this blackly comic story the way his protagonist, Luis Machi, barrels through life: loud, crude and indifferent to the finer points of character and plot as he rushes inexorably toward doom. (...) Like Flies From Afar is for those who like their noir fast, short and nasty. " - David Gordon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "La novela es distinta y rezuma autenticidad porque Ferrari (...) lo es: distinto y auténtico. (...) Rezuman las apenas 180 páginas de la novela un poso mafioso que habría dejado la dictadura." - Carles Geli, El País

  • "Ferrari doesn't hesitate to write of ghastly violence, but within his narrative framework, the depravity isn't unwarranted. He's funny, too, and enjoys mocking his main character's ignorance. (...) First published abroad in 2011, this skewering of a crude, destructive businessman would resonate in any era, but it feels particularly relevant in this one." - Kevin Canfield, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Like Flies from Afar comes with epigraphs from Jim Thompson and David Goodis, and Ferrari's writing is clearly modeled after theirs -- fast, sharp, and pitch-black dark; the third epigraph, squeezed in between the other two, is from Karl Marx, suggesting the novel's other focus, as its protagonist is the embodiment of ugly capitalism. Yet another epigraph on a separate page, from Rodolfo Walsh, spells the combination out more clearly: "If someone wants to read this book as a regular old thriller, that's their right" -- implying, of course, that it can also (or should) be read as something more than that.
       Like Flies from Afar begins with a coked-up (and Viagra-supplemented) Luis Machi getting a blow-job and then lighting up an expensive cigar. He is one for enjoying the fruits of his labor, getting his due; his business empire is called 'El Imperio', and he likes to see himself and be seen as an emperor-figure, bending every-one and -thing to his will (and whims). A supplicant on her knees, offering him gratification, sets the stage just right.
       It is early morning, and Machi wants some domestic satisfaction too: he calls his wife and demands that she have breakfast waiting for him when he gets home in what he imagines will be: "an hour, give or take". But breakfast, it turns out, will have to wait.
       Machi gets in his car, a two-hundred-thousand-dollar BMW, and begins the drive home. He does not immediately realize there are two things in his car that don't belong. One is a book that his daughter, Luciana, dropped -- Michel Foucault's The Order of Things -- though she calls him up to be on the lookout for it, because she needs it for an upcoming midterm. The Order of Things famously begins with the observation that: "This book first arose out of a passage in Borges", as Machi sees when he leafs through the book; the passage -- quoted by Foucault -- is from Borges' 'The Analytical Language of John Wilkins' and is itself a list Borges reports finding in a work by Franz Kuhn, who attributes it to a Chinese encyclopedia, the 'Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge' ('Emporio celestial de conocimientos benévolos'), categorizing animals; the listed categories are used by Ferrari as the titles of the thirteen parts of his novel, with the final, fourteenth one -- "que de lejos parecen moscas" -- taken for the title of the novel.
       The list -- and its transmitters, Borges and Foucault -- thus very obviously serve as a scaffold for the novel. Machi is, unsurprisingly, oblivious to it, unimpressed by what his daughter is studying and by Borges; amusingly, he eventually purchases a new copy of the book -- and, at the suggestion of the counter girl at the bookstore, Barthes' Writing Degree Zero -- as well as two Sidney Sheldon novels (for his wife).
       If The Order of Things pretty much goes over his head and is nothing more than a slight irritation -- at what his daughter is wasting her time with, at what he's wasting tuition-money on -- the other thing he finds in the BMW proves to be considerably more urgently problematic. He doesn't realize it immediately, but soon enough he's in for a very rude surprise: there is a dead body in the trunk of the car. Complicating matters further, it's handcuffed inside -- making it even harder to dispose of -- with a personal accessory, the pink fur handcuffs he likes to use in some of his sexual encounters.
       Machi has a problem -- and it's a confounding one too. He's baffled by how the body came into the trunk. Machi lives in a gated community, and his office garage is well secured. So there are a lot of open questions about this corpse that he can't even identify, and how it got there:

     Where, Mr. Machi asks himself.
     Who, he asks himself.
     He asks himself how.
     And why.
     Last of all, Mr.Machi, a businessman above all else, can't stop wondering: What did they expect to get out of planting a body in his trunk ?
       He spends the next couple of hours driving around, trying to figure all this out. And trying to get rid of the corpse.
       It brings him -- and his very showy car -- to neighborhoods where he stands out like a sore thumb. He's covered in elitist markers: Scappino, Versace, Rolex, Armani. And he's sitting in that obscenely expensive BMW. Driving through these common neighborhoods, he can't help but be outraged , his blinding sense of entitlement leaving him baffled: "Why are they all calm and not me ?" He can buy anything -- and anyone -- so why can't he have the piece of mind he deserves ?
       Like Flies from Afar is then a fast-paced ride-along, as Machi tries to extricate himself from this very uncomfortable situation he finds himself in -- and wonders who he can trust and who has it in for him -- complete with some blasts from the past and examples of his cutthroat policies and the damage they've done. His rise is one of ultra-capitalist success -- taking advantage of the possibilities, having the right connections, trampling anything in his way. It mirrors the Argentine experience in general, complete with high-finance games that crush the general population and benefit only a few winners. And Machi is one of those winners:
     I passed the factory over to the investors at Varano, we issued bonds, we stripped the motherfucker down, and we declared bankruptcy a few years later. In '92 all we had was a second-rate textile plant and in '94 I could put two million just into remodeling the club, see ?
       Like Flies from Afar is a novel of comeuppance -- but Ferrari doesn't go for facile moral tales: if this is the story of Machi's fall (into the abyss), it isn't the one of straightforward justice. Machi remains oblivious. Machi continues to believe he can get his way. And, mostly, Machi does. Sure, his wife has cleared out by the time he finally does get home, pissed off that she made him breakfast and he didn't show. But, hey, he bought her some Sidney Sheldon novels; it'll all be good in the end, he figures.
       As the invocation of Jim Thompson and David Goodis at the opening suggested, Ferrari's writing heart is in a deep, dark place, and that is where he brings the novel to in its conclusion. If most of Like Flies from Afar is a traditional tale of dark countdown suspense -- will the authorities catch up to what Machi is hiding or will he somehow extricate himself from this predicament ? -- its conclusion finds Machi confronted with the fact that he's at best managed a brief detour in the game that's actually being played with him. Does Ferrari play fair ? Absolutely; it's the perfect conclusion for this tale -- even as it leaves everything open. (But, yeah, it's hard not to think that Machi might have met his match.)
       Like Flies from Afar is a cruel portrait of a modern-day success story, its protagonist, forced by rare circumstances beyond his control, to navigate the world at large -- exposing him to how the other 99 per cent live, but he incapable of even beginning to comprehend the divide (much less accept any blame as to his own role in creating the conditions around him, or what is happening to him). Machi is being taught a lesson, but regardless how it's hammered home he doesn't seem to learn, which is part of the (sometimes grim) fun over the course of the story; the nice closing touch suggests that it won't be that easy for him to escape in the long run, which is fun too.
       Much here is familiar excess and outrageous behavior, but Like Flies from Afar is fast and furious and sly enough in Ferrari's presentation to work well on its multiple levels -- whether as simple thriller, socio-political critique, or anything in between. A solid little thriller, of and for our times.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 March 2020

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Like Flies from Afar: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Kike Ferrari was born in 1972.

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© 2020 the complete review

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