The Shrine at Altamira is the story of Russell Whitaker and his young and naive girlfriend, later wife, Maria Corazon Alvarez and how their relationship blossoms and changes over time with both great and disastrous results. They have a son named John and it is through John that they exude their wide variety of emotions for each other through him. When Russell, in a moment of cracked mentality, decides to set his only son on fire, the book then spirals downward into a Hell in which the inhabitants never escape, no matter how hard their efforts. And yet, as readers witness the continued torture of the effects after John's near death to the people who love and fear him equally, they are also witnesses to how Love, in its myriad of forms, still gives Russell and Maria hope, no matter how much of a farce it truly appears to be.
John L'Heureux's style of writing seems to be in the same vein as John Irving or Claire Messud: none of the characters are perfect, the flaws are worn proudly like medals in such a distinctly misaligned society, yet we can't help but still hope that somehow, all will turn out to be "okay". His words flow, literally, from the pages and I found myself not wanting to get up and do my chores for the night. I could not put the book down. Literally.
If you are looking for a well written literary novel that, I will admit, is not at all happy and full of sunshine, then The Shrine at Altamira is for you.
Read. This. Book.