The Best of Young Spanish Novelists...All in One Lit Mag
I wanted to be surprised in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Andres Barba stopped me in my tracks with his story “The Coming Flood”. A razor-sharp tale about female isolation and the extremes of a warped relationship to the body, Barba introduces us to Monica, a prostitute and plastic surgery-addict, and her ‘operation diary’. The narrative is laced with phrases like “sinister simplicity”, “strange delicacy”, “cruel tenderness”, and “impossible flower”, revealing Monica’s desire for both perfection and punishment. The idea of having a horn implanted in the middle of her forehead thrusts itself forcefully into her imagination, slowly taking over every thought as she slips further from reality and descends into narcissistic madness: “'My face with a horn, my smile with a horn, my arms and legs and tits and cunt with a horn.’” Barba takes the reader deep into Monica’s psyche and creates a story that recognizes some of the less pleasant truths about human wants and needs.
In a similar vein, Samanta Schweblin’s “Olingiris” is an allegorical tale set around the taboo female subject of hair removal. “The woman on the gurney” and “The assistant” are the two unnamed main characters who find themselves working together at “the Institute”; a strange, sterile lab for hair removal collection by tweezers. The story follows each woman’s journey to the Institute; the timeline of their childhoods with only the most telling details. Fish and fishermen seem to be a common thread, though it is apparent that neither woman would know this about the other. In the end there is recognition of shared pain, and a connection, though desperate and confusing, is made.
Child protagonists dominate “In Utah there are Mountains Too” (Federico Falco) and “The Cuervo Brothers” (Andres Felipe Solano), spinning youthful fantasies where objects and authority take on heightened meaning. Cuqui is a young, recently proclaimed atheist who falls head over heels for a Mormon boy named Steve, in town for the summer with his friend Bob to hand out Bibles and spread the good word. Cuqui is as lovable as her dramatic fantasies of seducing Steve:
“Cuqui would then run to her room, hug the pillow redolent of green Axe and imagine Steve sitting next to her on the edge of the bed. He would raise his arm and show her his armpit. Cuqui would press the button. Steve’s blond hairs, soft and translucent, would receive the shower of deodorant and be moistened. Thank you, Steve would say, and lean over, and before making love to her, he would run his tongue over her eyelids, moistening her closed eyes.”
In “The Cuervo Brothers”, the main character is also obsessed with others offering fantasy as an escape from his otherwise humdrum existence, and the life of mediocrity that he feels destined for. Nelson finds an overwhelming need for his voyeurism into the Cuervo brothers’ lives, inventing stories and rumors about them long after his friends have lost interest and moved on to girls and getting drunk. Excerpted from Solano’s novel in progress, Nelson’s story is one I would be interested in following further.
“The Place of Losses” (Rodrigo Hasbun) and “Gerardo’s Letter” (Elvira Navarro) are the obligatory stories of relationships terminating. Hasbun explores a couple’s sentimental unraveling from the points of view of both characters. Navarro’s narrative documents the banality and madness of long-term coupledom from the female’s point of view: “…it occurs to me that this is the nature of couplehood: the abjection of observing and participating in the other person’s obsessions.” After sharing these ironic barbs throughout, I was relieved to see Natalia seeking an out in the end, leaving Gerardo and stepping into the optimism of the unknown.