(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Palace of the White Skunks is a stylistically rich experimental novel that tells of the desolation, despair, and vicissitudes of a Cuban family prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The novel, which deliberately and systematically undermines the conventions of the realistic novel tradition, is centered on Fortunato, a sensitive and restless young man living through a turbulent political period in Cuban history: the insurrectional struggle against the dictatorial government of Fulgencio Batista. Desperate to escape the disappointments and cruelties of his family (whom he refers to as “creatures” and “wild beasts”), as well as to escape from Holguín, a small, conservative rural town, Fortunato attempts to join Fidel Castro’s revolutionary forces. This flight for freedom, however, ends tragically when the young man is arrested, tortured, and executed by the government police.

The novel is divided into three parts: “Prologue and Epilogue,” “The Creatures Utter Their Complaints,” and “The Play.” In the fourteen pages that make up part 1, “Prologue and Epilogue,” the reader is introduced to the self-pitying and squabbling voices of each character, all members of the same family. At this point, the crisscrossing of voices is so entangled that it is extremely difficult to decipher during a first reading. These fragments of voices, however, will be contextualized and expanded during the second and third parts of the novel. With the (con)fusion of what is traditionally the first word (prologue) and last word (epilogue) of the traditional novel, the suggestion is made that there is no first or final word...

(The entire section is 672 words.)

The Palace of the White Skunks Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Arenas, Reinaldo. “Reinaldo Arenas’s Last Interview.” Interview by Perla Rozencvaig. Review: Latin American Literature and Arts 44 (January/June, 1991): 78-83. Arenas’s last interview, granted shortly before his death in 1990, in which he talks at length about the novels of the pentagonía. The reader gets a sense of the author’s humor and subversive spirit, essential elements of his writing.

Mujica, Barbara. Review of The Palace of the White Skunks. Americas 43 (January/ February, 1991):60. Mujica praises Arenas’s book for its textured, vivid images of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

Soto, Francisco, David William Foster, and Gary Soto. Reinaldo Arenas. New York: Twayne, 1998. Offers a critical introduction to the life and work of Arenas. Discusses Arenas’s groundbreaking autobiography Before Night Falls as “an important milestone in American letters, for it was the first openly homosexual autobiography ever published.” Relates this work to Arenas’s entire oeuvre, including The Palace of the White Skunks.

Stavans, Ilan. “An Irredeemable Clan.” The New York Times Book Review, January 20, 1991, p. 20. Stavans clearly observes how despair and desolation permeate the entire text, concluding that Arenas’s characters, “like those of William Faulkner, are irredeemable, destined to suffer . . . we hear their tormented screams as they succumb to the perverse joke that has been played upon them by fate.”

Wood, Michael. “No Sorrow Left Unturned.” The New York Review of Books 38 (March 7, 1991): 21-23. A lengthy review of The Palace of the White Skunks. Wood states that Arenas “hasn’t written any of this book ironically; he has written it lyrically . . . making excess and stylistic risk a kind of signature.”