cover image Comemadre


Roque Larraquy, trans. from the Spanish by Heather Cleary. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-56689-515-6

Larraquy’s delightfully terrifying debut tells of a twisted medical experiment and a shocking art installation a century apart. In 1907 at the Temperly Sanatorium, a few miles outside Buenos Aires, Doctor Quintana’s superiors propose a disquieting experiment in the name of science: decapitate patients without damaging their vocal cords and, in the few seconds while the severed head maintains life, ask it what it sees. Quintana, who believes “to be present, but not participate directly, is the dream of every doctor,” passively goes along with conducting the experiment; he’s more interested in the sanatorium’s head nurse, Menéndez, who rebuffs his increasingly forceful advances. One decapitated head says “I’d like some water”; another “screams for nine seconds straight.” The experiment soon gets out of hand, culminating in a violent, thoroughly unsettling event. Afterward, the novel switches and is narrated by an unnamed Argentinian artist in 2009 whose displays include a live baby with two heads. He meets Lucio Lavat, another artist who looks just like him, and the two conceive a gruesome installation. How Larraquy ties the two halves of the novel together is surprising and brilliant. Throughout, there is a focus on bodies: a patient believes “each word [she] utters is a fly leaving her mouth”; at one point, the artist thinks, “people with long fingers touch things as if they were leaving a trail of slime on them”; and the book’s title refers to a plant that produces flesh-eating larvae. Shuttling between B-movie horror and exceedingly dark comedy, the novel is somehow both genuinely scary and genuinely funny, sometimes on the same page—a wickedly entertaining ride. (July)