Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Piñeiro
Title: Thursday Night Widows
Author: Claudia Piñeiro translated from the Spanish by Miranda France
Topics: Family secrets, class
Triggers: Some violence
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Publishing Year: 2010 in English (first published 2005)
Pages: 269 pages
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 5/5
Piñeiro is one of those authors that has been on my to read list for a while and now after having finished her latest mystery novel The Thursday Night Widows, I am absolutely kicking myself for not having picked up her work earlier. Her style is both subtle yet biting making her novel hugely entertaining while at the same time delivering a chilling mystery and gut-punching social commentary. I am absolutely in love with this book. Clearly Piñeiro is a master of her craft and it shows: she is a journalist, screenwriter and novelist known for her mystery and thrillers. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious prizes like the Pléyade journalism award and the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize. Her books are all best sellers in her native Argentina and are now finally, courtesy of Bitter Lemon Press, being brought to English reading audiences and they are in for a treat.
Summary: Three bodies lie at the bottom of a swimming pool in a gated country estate near Buenos Aires. Under the gaze of fifteen security guards, the pampered residents of Cascade Heights lead a charmed life of parties and tennis tournaments, ignoring the poverty outside the perimeter wall. Claudia Piñeiro's novel eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media. But this is more than a tale about crime, it is a psychological portrait of a middle class living beyond its means and struggling to conceal deadly secrets during the post-9/11 economic meltdown in Argentina.
As a mystery, Thursday Night Widow falls much more in the category of suburban noir that a traditional procedural. There is no detective or one character investigating the crime, rather as an omniscient reader we follow the community and come to see the completed picture at the end. The story starts off with a bang as one of the “Widows” discovers the body of her husband and two of his friends at the bottom of their pool. We then rewind and learn about the Thursday Night Widows (so named because their husbands leave them and gather together each Thursday to play cards) and their families; a group of wealthy Plateños escaping the big city to settle in an gated community that is both physically and literally walled off from the surrounding poorer community. The story continues in a slow burn, quietly building up tension until the last 30 or so pages when we reach the point where they story started and we come full circle, at last seeing the full tableau.
The brilliance of The Thursday Night Widows is that it manages to do two things very well at the same time: it entertains and it delivers sharp and biting social criticism. It is is juicy and gossipy as we follow the rich people problems of a handful of privileged and wealthy Argentine families living in the luxurious gated community of Cascade Heights. We discover their scandals and secrets hidden beneath a facade that they attempt to maintain at higher and higher costs as foreign investment (and their income streams) dry up post 9/11. At the same time it is a ruthless critique of the superficiality, classism, racism, and corruption in Latin America’s middle and upper middle classes. Piñeiro’s brilliant writing fuses the two ideas into one seamless and binge-worthy whole.
Readers will find it hard to look away as the veneer of perfection begins to cracks as pressure to maintain appearances finally boils over into a horrifying and twist ending that will appeal to readers of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies and Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. It is admittedly a slow burn after the explosive beginning but this only helps emphasize the shocking end and the lengths that these families will go to pretend that everything is alright (like that meme of the dog in a burning house). As the plot progresses we become both fascinated and horrified by the downward spiral of the Thursday Night Widows even as they refuse to publicly acknowledge it and are left with both a gasp-inducing ending and a lot of room for though over the morally questionable behavior of Cascade Heights residents.
It is the incredible balance between binge-worthy entertainment and razor sharp social critique that make Piñeiro’s work stand out and so addicting. It also includes a twist ending that made me want to shove this books into all my friends’ hands and make them read it just so we can talk about the ending. A slight heads up about this translation: I did find a couple of typos. For the most part they are innocuous and you can tell what is supposed to be there but they did take me out of the ‘reading flow’ when I encountered them. Despite the minor typos, the story is still excellent and I still highly recommend this book. If you are looking to fill the Big Little Lies shaped hole in your heart, this one definitely deserves a spot on your bookshelf.
Read if you like:
- Addicting books with a bite
- Big Little Lies
- Rich people problems + dead bodies
P.S. There’s also a movie! Which I am totally going to watch. Check out the trailer below!