Perfect Days by Raphael Montes [translated by Alison Entrekin] published in 2016.
“Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together.”
I like to believe that I have a strong stomach when it comes to consuming horror and thriller fiction, but I found myself incredibly uncomfortable while reading this.
Teo is a young medical student living in Rio De Janeiro, ranging from awkward young fellow to literal sociopath. He very quickly falls head over heels for Clarice, an eccentric, free-spirited art student who does not share Teo’s feelings. After making it clear that she is not interested, he knocks her out and kidnaps her along a “romantic” trip to Teresópolis and then Ilha Grande, on a mission to persuade her to love him back. This involves consistently drugging, handcuffing, gagging and even stuffing her in a suitcase. Along their journey, Clarice unsuccessfully attempts to fight back while Teo commits his first murder; Clarice’s ex-boyfriend. Throughout the entire story, Teo is unshakably delusional, convinced that he’s doing nothing wrong, in fact, he believes everything he’s doing is for her own good. It’s only a matter of time before she learns to love him, according to Teo. It’s a rollercoaster of heart-skipping moments and chilling commentaries that had the hair on the back of my neck standing up.
Let’s start with the beginning and how much I loved the beginning. The first line speaks of the only person Teo supposedly likes, Gertrude. He speaks very highly of her, and we get the impression that she’s the only person that understands Teo. Very shortly after, the reader finds out that Gertrude is, in fact, a corpse. Actually, a cadaver that he is working on in one of his classes. This immediately sets up Teo’s menacing demeanour. This sociopathic behaviour is backed up by a lack of empathy and care for others, including his mother. In fact, he says the only reason he sticks around his mother is for money and food. Even his relationship with Clarice is not love, it’s an insane obsession. Little details of his instability are sprinkled throughout the novel, such as crushing a butterfly after suffocating it underneath a shot glass and dismembering Clarice’s ex-boyfriend only to throw the body in the river. Okay, that last one may be less of a small hint of instability and more a direct piece of evidence for a diagnosis of sociopathy.
There are so many other subtable nuances that add to the personality of this book, one of my favourite’s being Teo’s nickname for Clarice. He began calling her “my little rat”, supposedly for her rat-like teeth. Now I don’t know if I’m over analyzing things here, but I think it’s a bit deeper than just teeth. Since Teo is a medical student, it’s not uncommon that he might conduct experiments with animals, most particularly rats. To him, Clarice is simply a rat to experiment with, to play with and to receive enlightenment from. Again, maybe I’m overthinking this miniscule part of the story, but to me, it just stood out as symbolically important.
I mentioned above how much I loved the beginning, and I wish I could say the same thing for the ending. It’s been said before that a happy ending is no ending at all (in fact this was a line in the last book I reviewed, The Burning Girl). In this case, I disagree. Teo is so incredibly unlikable and does the most horrid things to Clarice, an innocent girl that honestly could have been anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. I, as well as probably many other readers, was rooting for Clarice to break free of his captive and perhaps even get some revenge. Yet the ending was a happy ending for Teo, where he ultimately gets what he wants. As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted justice. I wanted Clarice to have the opportunity to spit on Teo as he was taken away to rot in prison. But that didn’t happen, which disappointed me a lot.
Perfect Days is beyond terrifying and that fact that Raphael Montes has the capability to come up with this kind of stuff is frankly alarming, but also impressive. I finished this book with a bitter taste in my mouth in all the best ways. This is the definition of a page-turner. I would definitely recommend this book, although if you have a weak stomach or are triggered easily, you may want to approach this with care.