cover image The Arid Sky

The Arid Sky

Emiliano Monge, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead. Restless, $16.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-63206-134-8

In Monge’s uneven English-language debut, the life of a ruthless outlaw turned even more ruthless head of a small state ministry is examined in a series of non-sequential but interlocking segments. That man is Gérman Alcántara Carnero, aka El Gringo, who is also called by an ever-increasing number of fourth wall–breaking nicknames throughout the book, the most prominent being “ourman.” He’s the only son of a violent, bedridden father and blind, abused mother. His brutal rise to power leaves the scorched lands of his fictional North Mexican home region, the Mesa Madre Buena, as riddled with corpses as his conscience is with guilt. Carnero is an intriguing antihero, and the language, as translated by Bunstead, has its moments of spare sublimity, most often while describing the blasted landscape: “He cuts into the part of the land where at certain times of the year beanstalks and at others alfalfa and sorghum and grass and corn grow, in haphazard manner: a manner replicated by almost everything on this plain and thus by this story as well.” Yet however self-knowing its narrative, the story is undercut by its ambitious but clunky structure and an unnecessarily metafictive narrator whose presence in the story is never sufficiently explained. The result is a bold but cloudy narrative. (Aug.)