THE HOUSEGUEST by Amparo Dávila


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The borders between the animal, human, and spirit worlds are constantly breached in these creepy magical realist tales of grief and obsession.

Dávila’s 12 short stories begin with “Moses and Gaspar,” about Señor Kraus, who returns to his dead brother’s apartment to collect the dogs he left behind. Moses and Gaspar become a complicated “inheritance from [his] unforgettable brother.” Many creatures are more human than animal in Dávila’s work, and the dogs' “screams” disturb Kraus’ neighbors, while Kraus becomes increasingly animalistic. The dogs' grief comes to wreck his life. Similar connections to the animal world are found in other stories; “The Houseguest” features a jealous wife and an unnamed visitor her husband brings home: “His nourishment was limited entirely to meat; he wouldn’t touch anything else.” He hovers over the sleeping members of the house, watching them, until eventually the wife is driven mad. In “Oscar,” a family lives to serve a dictatorial creature who controls all who enter the house from his place in the cellar: “He was the first to eat and allowed no one to taste their food before him. He knew everything, saw everything. He shook the iron door of the cellar with fury, and shouted when something displeased him. At night he indicated, with sounds and signs of objection, when he wanted them to go to bed, and often when he wanted them to get up. He ate large amounts, voraciously, and without enjoyment…grotesquely.” Dávila’s animals are humanized—familiar to anyone who has lived with a cat or a dog—but their holds on the humans of her stories are tyrannical. Other tales deal with the power of the imagination to create real fear: “Fragment of a Diary” is a series of meditations on degrees of pain by a character who wishes to develop tolerance as an art. In “End of a Struggle,” Durán witnesses himself walking by with a former lover, then follows to see his other life.

Brief, macabre stories that twist our obsessions with animals and our own thoughts. Like Poe for the new millennium.

Pub Date: Nov. 27th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2821-3
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2018


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