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How a Mexican-born debut novelist created a beautiful monster




By Gerardo Samano Cordova
Zando, 336 pages, $27

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monster”, a debut novel by Gerardo Sámano Córdova, is aptly titled: a supernatural hybrid that is part horror, part literary meditation on pain, part wildly entertaining story of an impossible who is forced to live in the shadow of the dead child he replaced. At once heartbreaking and unapologetically bizarre, this is a crisp, syncretic, folkloric, cross-cultural narrative about the horrors of grief and the eternal debate over nature vs. nurture.

Santiago, the son of Mexican immigrants, was born in New York City with a single, small, misshapen lung; He was not expected to survive the night, miraculously he lived for 11 years. When death finally finds Santiago, her mother, Magos, cuts her son open with a kitchen knife and cuts off a small piece of his deformed lung before returning to Mexico with her mother, leaving behind her husband, Joseph.

Magos hears a folk tale about a boy who grew from a heart and, acting purely on instinct and desperation, he stores the organ fragment in a jar and feeds it drops of chicken broth until it gains sentience. He grows eyes, hair, and a tail-like appendage that he uses to move. Before long, Monstrilio emerges, not Santiago, but a furry speck that fills the space that Santiago left behind. Monstrilio eventually becomes M., who resembles Santiago, but with a patch of hair on his forehead and pointy teeth, he possesses brutal instincts that he must fight to control, if he can.

Most of this development is covered in the first of the four parts of “Monstrilio”, each with a different narrator. The second part of it is told by Lena, a young surgeon and good friend of Magos who, for a time, was in love with her. She has trouble sleeping and relies on toilets run by sex workers. Her life is turned upside down when Magos comes to live with her after Monstrilio attacks her mother. Joseph, meanwhile, returns to Mexico and quickly adopts Monstrilio. He narrates the third part of the book, beginning with an affair with a man in New York, describing secrets, a new love, and the impossibility of changing.

The first part is an excellent introduction, the second an exploration of love and loneliness, the third a slightly meandering look at the way we rebuild after great loss. But the last part is the jewel in the crown of this singular novel. Narrated by M. with an impeccable economy of language, the final section of “Monstrilio” takes the reader into the psyche of a being in perpetual battle against inhuman and all-too-human hunger. It narrates M.’s first job and his first sexual experience with the young man who becomes his boyfriend. He also starts smoking.

“Monstrilio” contains a lot, and the author achieves it brilliantly. She’s both dark and tender, at times somber, but balanced with humor that borders on slapstick (when Monstrilio attacks her grandmother, there’s blood but also mayhem and unexpected hilarity). And the narrative, which spans the cities of New York, Mexico City, Berlin and back, sows a staggering number of ideas within a mix of gory horror and family drama, laced together with prose that’s often beautiful despite its subject matter. , steeped in tension. , sadness and the constant threat of maiming and murder.

Sámano Córdova’s work possesses classic horror DNA, including Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” and some humor from movies like “Little Shop of Horrors.” But his unique perspective and diverse cast of characters put him in alliance with a growing movement of writers including Carmen María Machado, Stephen Graham Jones, V. Castro, Maríana Enríquez, Eric LaRocca and Erika T. Wurth, writers who extract interpretations fresh from horror’s perceptions of otherness, expanding the genre to include BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters, as well as their culture and backgrounds.

“Monster” it inhabits an interstitial space between clever horror, folklore, literary fiction, and the kind of bizarre, often multicultural narratives usually labeled magical realism for lack of a better term. New York City is at its heart, but it is also Mexican to the core, full of magic, mezcal, taquitos, alebrijes and opossums (possums). The elements that make up the story can be easily identified, but the sum of its parts becomes a kind of floating signifier that refuses to be immobilized.

Sámano Córdova has created an outstanding debut; even though he is making his way in the horror genre, his is a distinctive and exciting new voice in fiction. Like his characters, he knows how things are supposed to be, but he dares, uncompromisingly, to explore them as they really are.

Iglesias is a book reviewer, professor, and author of “The Devil Takes You Home.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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