A Riveting Exploration of Love and Loss : a Review of “180 Days” by Alfredo Botello

180 Days” by screenwriter and first time novelist Alfredo Botello is a moving examination of the difficulties that come with being in a relationship, centered on one couple’s voyage through the turbulent seas of marriage and the very real possibility of divorce. We meet Tomas Araeta and Naomi Curran early in their relationship. Both share a love of architecture, punk rock, and each other. Botello then abruptly takes us ten years into the future, and all is not so idyllic. Throughout the book, in a fractured timeline that intensifies the emotions of the moment, Botello explores the complexities of love, treachery, and the ability for human change in a story both specific and universal.

The narrative proper kicks off with Naomi and Tomas driving around Oakland’s Lake Merritt, setting the stage for a pivotal moment that will reshape their lives. The Alameda County courthouse becomes the backdrop for a decision that will reverberate through the next 180 days, a literal timeframe, legally mandated, that holds the key to resolution or further entanglement.

I found Botello’s voice and tone unique, sharp and compelling. The story is told in the third person, and he shifts perspectives, alternating sympathy between Tomas and Naomi. I found myself rooting for, and against, both characters at different points in their journey. Botello walks a tonal high wire, finding humor in unlikely places, grief and melancholy in small, unexpected moments.

Botello’s narrative has a cinematic aspect that comes as no surprise given his experience as a screenwriter. Each day plays filmically in its visuals and structure, and Botello’s ear for dialogue is crisp and authentic. There are characters, a snarky employee of Tomas’, Naomi’s parents, a reclusive punk rock icon, Naomi’s best friend, to mention a few, each of whom possesses a carefully delineated worldview and voice. One can see that Botello strove through each of his characters to present different views of marriage, infidelity, monogamy and love. Naomi and Tomas themselves are portrayed vividly through detailed descriptions and complex characterizations, which make them likable and interesting. Their likability, however, is earned not through them being “sweet” or “nice,” but rather flawed and struggling. The characters’ genuine emotions are captured in incisive conversation and action as they deal with the consequences of trust ruptured and the approaching breakdown of their marriage.

In a pivotal scene, Tomas realizes how corrosive it is to forever compare oneself to others. He has, in his mind and heart, created something he calls “the pantheon” of the greats. The impossible bar he sets for himself ultimately leads to one very poor spur of the moment decision, and a fallout which ranges from overwhelming regret to manic rationalization to thoughts of living no longer. 

At first I found Naomi too good for Tomas. Her metrics for affirmation and self-worth are more sound and healthy than his, unquestionably. But as the story unfolds, Botello shows us that she, too, is flawed. That her self-conception is not without its blind spots. There is a brittle quality to her in moments which makes her fallible, lovable and three dimensional, and highlights the author’s view that no part of any deep relationship, the good, the bad, the ugly, is simple.

Botello’s ability to seamlessly weave together elements of drama, introspection, and societal commentary is commendable. “180 Days” is not merely a story of personal relationships; it is a reflection on the human condition, exploring themes of pride, regret, affirmation, atonement and the passage of time.

Readers are drawn into a captivating investigation of self-discovery and the pursuit of happiness as Naomi and Tomas probe and negotiate the emotional turbulence of their inner and outer lives. I found myself asking many times, “What would I do in her shoes? In his?”

There is a specifity not only of character, but of place, to the book. It is set in the San Francisco Bay Area, and, per Botello’s bio, he co-owns two dive bars in Oakland. One must imagine he drew liberally from what he has observed in these alcohol soaked human petri dishes.

The ending is calibrated beautifully and felt true to character. No spoilers here, so I will leave other readers to experience it.

In summary, Alfredo Botello’s “180 Days” is a superbly written examination of love, grief, and the resilience of the human spirit. The writer’s distinctive fusion of screenplay skill and architectural knowledge elevate the story above the typical fare one might associate with a story of romance and betrayal. His bio also lists him as Nicholl Fellow in screenwriting and a Fulbright Fellow in architecture. The cinematic is clear in his storytelling, as well as his ability to show us how architecture mirrors human relations – from the frivolous and chaotic to the somber and orderly. 

All in all an extremely strong and promising debut novel.

Mason Cooper
Mason Cooper
Mason Cooper hails from the vibrant city of Los Angeles, California, and serves as an integral part of LA Featured Magazine's dedicated staff. As a committed team member, Mason's contribution has had a significant impact on the magazine's growth and popularity over the years.


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