The Foreigners
Maxine Swann
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Buy *The Foreigners* by Maxine Swann online

The Foreigners
Maxine Swann
272 pages
August 2011
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The narrator of Swann’s novel sets in motion a series of set pieces that seem to have been in progress long before the main event occurs. Daisy is too wrapped up in herself and too consumed with pain after a bitter divorce. On the advice of a friend, she decides to travel Buenos Aires, having obtained a grant to study the city’s public waterworks.

In this “unfinished place” of backpackers, tango dancers, and “those who seek to escape from troubled families,” Daisy is plunged into a glamorous milieu, her first days in Buenos Aires disorientated by the “lugubrious air.” For Daisy, Buenos Aires is indeed a flamboyant place: of trees that bloom not once but for several seasons, and a vibrant Plaza San Martin, where you think that everyone in Buenos Aries is in love.

In an effort to meet people, Daisy decides to advertise language classes. Into her life comes wild and reckless Leonarda, who slinks through the city, showing Daisy the ropes while perpetuating her habit of going places and leaving without paying. Daisy also meets Gabriel, a gay gigolo. Gabriel awakens Daisy’s furtive desires. His shocking pronouncement “to try everything” is something that Daisy eventually takes to heart with varying degrees of success.

A foreigner’s loneliness should not be underestimated. In air edged with darkness, Daisy and Leonarda walk streets lined with bars that coexist with wastelands of grass and dirt. Suddenly there’s the image of a transvestite in turquoise shorts and a halter. Daisy finds herself ever more drawn to Leonarda, even through she’s often appalled at her childish ways and her self-absorbed, narcissistic lifestyle.

Aspiring to sophistication and glamour, Leonarda acts like a truck driver - hulking around in her miniskirt, her tiny tank-top only half covering her large breasts, engaged in aesthetic and militaristic campaigns of her own. Also engaged in a campaign - albeit one with a far more sophisticated agenda - is Isolde. A social climber from Austria, Isolde wants to throw soirees for artists from abroad, but she ends up spending most of her lonely nights knowing there’s a party to go to somewhere and lamenting the fact she doesn’t have anyone to go with.

While Leonarda and Gabriel are a product of a country they love, Daisy looks back on those months in Buenos Aires and sees them as “her own little metaphorical Cambrian explosion,” a combination of converging factors in her life. This is “Paris with a seedy edge,” where the perpetual flow of water becomes an important symbol for Daisy’s new, vibrant, and fluid life.

Swann shepherds Daisy, Isolde and Leonardo through the colorful Buenos Aires landscape as she unfurls Daisy’s forbidden attractions. Shocking sex scenes add spice to the novel while the author infuses her story with a good deal of sly humor. The end result is a visually stimulating perspective of a country and a portrait of three women defined by their erotic and sensuous natures.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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