cover image Bedside Manners

Bedside Manners

Luisa Valenzuela. Serpent's Tail, $12.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-1-85242-313-1

In this brisk satire, a woman returns to her newly democratized Latin American home and at the suggestion of a friend, retreats to a country club for some rest. To her mounting bewilderment, the country's unexpected turmoil pursues her into the cocoon: the cost of croissants skyrockets by the minute; a military coup brews in her bungalow; and an uprising threatens to spill from a shanty town adjacent to the club's golf links. Meanwhile, a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like cab driver who moonlights as a doctor makes for a confusing lover, as a gallant seduction-by-stethoscope turns into a chauvinist rant the morning after. The narrative takes on the aspect of political burlesque as militia men spring from beneath the woman's bed or goose-step into her room from the television set. At the center of the action, never once leaving her bed, the woman grapples with her passivity, a fertile image at once comic and enraging. Valenzuela artfully communicates that sexual, national, political and class identity are intimately linked and painfully fluid. Characteristically, the thought-provoking humor leaves a bitter aftertaste, but this spare story lacks the evocative language of her other work, He Who Searches or The Lizard's Tail, engaging the intellect rather than the senses. (Jan.)