Although he writes in the nihilist mode, Cela, unlike most modern practitioners, starts from no preconceived positions; his premises tend to evolve as he goes along and then just as easily disappear all together. Is Pascual a cautionary tale, a psychological study, or mere naturalism of a dark, distressing sort? One never knows. All these ingredients are there, but brand names seem irrelevant. Cela's anti-hero is a man whose humanity is close to that of an animal, and yet what he has to say of himself (it's in the first person) is so blunt and blunderingly honest that a bleak pathos is evoked on every page. Outwardly he's a proletarian figure living in the sticks north of Madrid in the '20's. Grown up without love (a drunken father, stone-faced mother), as a field hand he feels nothing in nature. He has a sister-fixation but she's little more than a whore. Everything he touches falls apart. He marries, his children die; his first wife's unfaithful, his second can't help. Early on in the course of events his impulses turn inwards. He's deemed to commit one senseless murder after another, beginning with the shooting of his pet dog, ending with the horrendous- and that is the right word- stabbing of his mother. What is one to make of all this? Zola's La Bete Humaine used similar melodramatics, but there it was a sort of mental hygiene appeal. Cela's world is as bonebare as a geometric proposition and as inexorable. Though its style and language suits the class of its narrator and though not a bit of pity seeps through, something close to tragedy, close to a catharsis is felt. A strange achievement; the most disturbing and disturbingly good Spanish writing since Borges, whose nerve-wracking ceremoniousness is the underside of Cela's stark, spiney neutrality.