Today’s book is a short, strange and slippery novel from Mexico, only the second novel by Cristina Rivera Garza to appear in English. At the start, two women visit, and take up residence in, the unnamed narrator’s house. One claims to be the writer Amparo Dávila, and says she knows the narrator from when he was a tree. The second woman is an ex-lover of the narrator’s, referred to only as “the Betrayed”. The two women begin to speak to each other in a private language, and tell the narrator that they know he’s really a woman. Feeling threatened, the narrator decides to find out if his visitor really is Amparo Dávila – but this sets him on a course that will lead him to question what he thought he knew.
In her introduction, Rivera Garza refers to Amparo Dávila as a writer who has been marginalised in real life. In the novel, Amparo tells the narrator that she is writing about her disappearance – and disappearance is treated as a contagion. The narrator realises that he is part of a community of the disappeared:
And disappeared were our voices, our smells, our desires. We lived, if you will, in the in-between. Or rather, we lived with one foot in the grave and the other on terrain that held only a minute resemblance to life. Very few knew about us and even fewer worried about our fate.
(translation by Sarah Booker)
By treating social marginalisation as a communicable disease, Rivera Garza externalises it, in a way that enables her vividly to blur the boundary between marginalised and ‘mainstream’. Other boundaries are also challenged throughout the novel: boundaries of gender, for example, or the line between concrete reality and abstract conception. The experience of reading The Iliac Crest is fluid and disorienting.
The Iliac Crest (2002) by Cristina Rivera Garza, tr. Sarah Booker (2017), And Other Stories, 144 pages, paperback (source: review copy).