Nervous System

Lina Meruane, trans. from Spanish by Megan McDowell. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-64445-055-0
Chilean writer Meruane’s razor-sharp novel (after Seeing Red) follows a young woman struggling to complete a dissertation in astrophysics. Ella’s doctoral work is going nowhere; she can’t even decide on a topic, something she keeps secret from her partner, El, and her father, who has poured his life savings into her education. (Her father, in turn, has kept his investment in her education a secret from Ella’s stepmother and half siblings.) Desperate, Ella invokes the spirit of her mother, who died in childbirth, praying for her to afflict her with a disease that will excuse her from her teaching responsibilities. Obsession with illness and injury is the overriding subject of the narrative—Ella manifests an undiagnosable spinal pain, El is injured in an explosion, her stepmother’s breast cancer returns. Her father, himself a doctor, is hospitalized. Meruane is a writer of undeniable talent; her portrayal of the body as a site of suffering is nuanced and unflinching. The years of dictatorship and “still-undiscovered graves” in Ella’s unnamed “preterit country,” and the migrant “problem” in her “country of the present,” where people speak a different language, add more dark layers. While there isn’t much in the way of momentum, on a sentence level it’s unimpeachable. The result is a challenge, but one that gives the reader much to chew on. (May)
Reviewed on : 04/15/2021
Release date: 05/18/2021
Genre: Fiction
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