cover image Not a River

Not a River

Selva Almada, trans. from the Spanish by Annie McDermott. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-64445-285-1

In this potent novella from Argentine writer Almada (Brickmakers), the killing of a stingray sets off a series of fateful events along an unnamed South American river. Two middle-aged men, Enero and El Negro, are on a fishing trip with a boy named Tilo, the son of their friend, Eusebio. After battling with the ray for hours, Enero shoots it three times with a revolver and the group hangs it from a tree. It’s not long before some locals, led by the intense Aguirre, notice the dead ray and take umbrage at outsiders committing such a grisly act. The timeline shifts frequently from the present-day fishing trip to the past, documenting Enero and El Negro’s years of friendship with Eusebio, who drowned on a similar trip to the same river. Almada gradually unearths the secrets kept by the three outsiders, as well as two local teenage girls, Mariela and Lucy, who are Aguirre’s nieces and who play a pivotal role in how the story unfolds. The novel becomes more ethereal and ghostlike in the second half, and Almada particularly excels at depicting her characters’ fragility and vulnerability: “Ties here are made of cobwebs.... One little breeze and they break,” one character says. Like a dream, this otherworldly tale lingers in the reader’s mind. (May)