cover image Variations on the Body

Variations on the Body

María Ospina, trans. from the Spanish by Heather Cleary. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-56689-610-8

In Ospina’s smart, vibrant debut collection, women struggle to carve out lives for themselves in early 2000s Bogotá. In the engaging “Policarpa,” Marcela adjusts to civilian life after leaving a paramilitary outfit, but a cashier job in a store proves as doctrinaire as the guerrillas. Zenaida, a live-in worker for a wealthy family in “Occasion,” is inured to class disparity, but her knowledge can’t protect her from the whims of her clients’ troubled young daughter. In “Saving Young Ladies,”Aurora, an aimless young woman, moves back to Bogotá from the U.S. and forms a bond with Jessica, a student at a nearby Catholic boarding school—and Aurora’s fantasies of rescuing Jessica from their conservative society shade into erotic obsession. Mirla, the protagonist of the title story, is “confused about certain things” after the death of her husband and determines to carry on the lifestyle his money had afforded her while putting herself and his family in danger by neglecting a granddaughter. Throughout, Ospina draws out the class distinctions among her characters with stark, incisive contrasts. The strongest stories have clear conflicts, while others meander, such as the diaristic “Fauna of the Ages” and “Collateral Beauty.” Still, Ospina’s central themes consistently resonate, and some of the stories are quite memorable. (July)