cover image Dialogue with a Somnambulist

Dialogue with a Somnambulist

Chloe Aridjis. Catapult, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64622-182-0

Mexican American writer Aridjis (Sea Monsters) conjures the strange and marvelous in this dazzling collection of stories and essays. In the magnificent title piece, which unfolds like a goth music video, the Berlin-based narrator follows a plastic bag “blown by a mysterious current” to a ramshackle bar filled with papier-mâché monsters and a wax giant with jealous tendencies. “Crustaceans” features a teenage boy looked after by his grandmother, who eats sea monkeys and disappears as suddenly as she appeared in his life. Insomnia is a recurring motif and provides fertile ground for Aridjis’s vast imagination. The protagonist of “In the Arms of Morpheus” is preoccupied by a chance encounter at a sleep-study clinic with another patient, while in the autobiographical essay “Kopfkino,” Aridjis describes moving to Berlin in 2003, where night felt “so laden with signals” she was hardly able to shut them out. The bulk of the nonfiction revolves around the beauty and tragedy of Mexico. In the standout piece “Baroque,” for example, Aridjis places the “unabashed theatricality” of the drug cartels’ violence in a centuries-old tradition of Mexican Baroque that emerged from clashes between Spanish, French, and Indigenous cultures and includes antagonistic expressions such as lucha libre. A surreal mood and intellectual heft sustain and unify the varied collection. Readers will eagerly turn the page to see where Aridjis takes them next. (Aug.)