WELCOME TO PERU by Chad Vegas tells the story of the narrator and his friend Max, who leave behind carpentry jobs in order to live a fuller, more adventurous life. While it’s certainly more adventurous, their travels to Peru to open a brothel, California to grow pot, and anywhere interesting in-between threaten everything they hold dear.
This debut novel from Vegas is a polarizing one, and that seems to be intentional. The chief characteristic of this story is the author’s voice, who delivers the narrative not like a tale unfolding on pages but rather like a speed-freak sitting next to you on a long bus ride. Evoking the stream-of-consciousness style of the beat writers, Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski, our narrator takes us into the past, present, and sometimes the future both in Peru and his home state of California.
What makes this book so polarizing is not the callous and offensive way the characters view native Peruvians or women or authority figures. No, what will more likely divide readers is Vegas’s writing style and the choices he makes in telling this story. The story is very well-researched, but carries with it little immersive description. For example, there was a missed opportunity for gripping drama when the Narrator and Max are riding atop a tanker truck with other passengers, an apparently common form of travel in Peru. At one point, the vehicle has to back up along a single-lane mountain road to accommodate a truck coming at them from the opposite direction. Instead of slowing down the narrative and really putting readers in the scene, the Narrator tells us it was scary and simply moves on to the next thing.
Still, despite eschewing traditional narrative structure, Vegas’s story is compelling. Even if the reader finds the narrator’s personality grating, the frantic energy of the prose and the wide scope of the story keeps the pages turning. Vegas has woven a gripping tale that is at times fun, offensive, or both. It’s almost impossible not to enjoy the story underneath it all, even if readers wonder how much of the Narrator’s tale is the truth and how much is exaggeration.
The major fault with this book is that the story doesn’t finish, but rather the Narrator simply seems to run out of breath. It ends on what is supposed to be a cliffhanger, but for the reader invested in the larger story it is unsatisfying. For those who have bonded to the character, it will only make them hungry for more. Yet the readers looking for a complete story may feel as though they’ve wasted their time.
~Joshua M. Patton for IndieReader