The narrator of Osvaldo Soriano’s novel is a computer programmer who has recently lost his job. His story begins when a train he is on breaks down in the Argentine hinterlands. He decides to set out, alone and on foot, to find a train station where he can cash in his ticket. He has nothing else of value and so he finds himself suddenly a vagrant.

At a deteriorating gas station—the first of many deteriorating structures he describes—the narrator meets Coluccini, a former circus owner and acrobat whose partner has run off to Australia with Coluccini’s family and the remnants of his circus. Coluccini is the first of several bizarre characters that appear, disappear, and reappear in such unlikely places and at such unlikely times that the story soon takes on a surreal quality. This quality reaches its height when Coluccini rides a rusty, rickety old bicycle on the telephone wires over a deserted town.

The other characters include a spurned banker who drives a well-stocked Jaguar designed to be lived in for many weeks, a traveling fortune teller who is preoccupied with food and her make-up, and a down-and-out salesman offering portable showers to farmhands.

Many of the characters are in circumstances similar to those of the narrator: They have been wronged, they are tottering on the verge of decline, and they are headed for vague destinations with vague purposes that are easily diverted. Even the minor characters add to the atmosphere of degradation: In his wanderings, the narrator several times runs across a truck driver whose broken-down truck is filled with melons that have decayed a little more at each meeting.

The novel is a marvelous study of that state just prior to abandonment or disintegration. The mental form of that state is crystallized in a scene where the narrator and Coluccini are playing cards, and the stakes are memories. Soriano explores the feasibility of hope by focusing on the mechanisms of loss.