A young boy has fled his home. He’s pursued by dangerous forces. What lies before him is an infinite, arid plain, one he must cross in order to escape those from whom he’s fleeing. One night on the road, he meets an old goatherd, a man who lives simply but righteously, and from that moment on, their paths intertwine.
Out in the Open tells the story of this journey through a drought-stricken country ruled by violence. A world where names and dates don’t matter, where morals have drained away with the water. In this landscape the boy—not yet a lost cause—has the chance to choose hope and bravery, or to live forever mired in the cycle of violence in which he was raised. Carrasco has masterfully created a high stakes world, a dystopian tale of life and death, right and wrong, terror and salvation.
What could this little boy possibly have done to cause this massive search? The boy assures us that he "hadn't killed anyone, he hadn't stolen, he hadn't taken the name of God in vain," so what did he do? Carrasco doesn't tell us exactly what happened until much later in the story, leaving only sickening hints—forcing the reader to make his or her own dark guesses as to who or what the boy has escaped from and what will happen to him if/when he is caught by his primary pursuer. In an interview, Carrasco says, "When I wrote the novel I tried to create an incomplete psychological profile of the boy. Not just because he was a 'personality in progress' but because I wanted to attract the reader to the characters by giving them a sort of mystery. When I read I'm always tempted to fill in with my own experience of life what is suggested but not said, I think we all do. When the blank says 'fear,' it is more suggestive when the reader fills the blank with their own fear instead of a neat description of what the writer thinks that the character feels."
|This is how the old man|
looks as he rides his
donkey, which is loaded
with panniers (saddle
bags) filled with his
|A rope lighter|
The next chapters follow the group of animals and the two humans as they move slowly across an arid, dusty, rocky plain pocked with bone-dry stream beds. Although some have criticized this section of the book for being too slow, I found it fascinating to watch the primitive but principled goatherd begin to mentor the boy, almost as if the old man is readying the boy to take his place when the time comes. This part of the book is truly a coming-of-age process for a youngster who has never been beyond the boundaries of his own village and who has always relied on his family for sustenance and shelter. Now, he has only himself—and the goatherd—to keep him alive. Carrasco's writing is filled with the meticulous details of surviving in this unforgiving landscape (which is based on Carrasco's childhood in a drought-ridden area of Spain).
Comparisons can be made between the boy's search for safety and Don Quixote's quest for chivalry. In an on-line interview, Carrasco makes the following statement on this subject: "There are many parallels between the books. Both are, in some way, travel books, unfolding in the same landscape, and danger is a substantial part of the plot. The difference is that while Don Quixote seeks danger, the boy in this novel, flees from it. In my opinion the need for safety that the boy feels is actually finally fulfilled by the encounter with the goatherd. It is, anyway, a psychological safety, which has been sourced from a newly acquired feeling of autonomy. For the first time in his early life, he feels that it is himself who is in charge of is own life. It is good to be aware that life is not cocooned in safety and that it finally ends." The book has also been compared to Cormac MacCarthy's The Road.
Eventually, of course, the boy's pursuers catch up with him in a horrific scene set in the ruins of an ancient castle. From that point on, suspense builds at a compelling rate as we root for the boy and his savior to emerge from this virtual nightmare alive. "The elements had pushed him far beyond what he knew and didn't know about life. It had taken him to the very edge of death...." The boy struggles to understand the goatherd's motivations for helping him. He wonders why the old man has put himself at high risk and has suffered extreme pain and hardship just to help him escape from his pursuers.
Although there are a number of extremely violent scenes in the second half of the book, Carrasco takes a Hitchcockian approach to them, never giving us the full graphic details, but instead relying on shadows, sounds, and smells to communicate the horrors. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Carrasco uses his storytelling as a means of forcing his audience to project their worst fears and anxieties—to place the reader just outside the scene as a silent, powerless observer.