In this slight collection of stories, first published in Spanish in 2008, the Mexican writer Nettel (After the Winter, 2018, etc.) plumbs the depths of human perversion.
One character haunts restaurant toilets, becoming obsessed with a strange woman simply based on the smell of her poo ("Petals"); another peeps on her neighbor, getting a voyeuristic thrill from watching him masturbate while his date sits in another room ("Through Shades"); a third character can't give up her obsessive-compulsive tendency to pluck hair from all over her body, even when it costs her intimacy ("Bezoar"). Too often, weirdness feels overdetermined in these stories, as though the point is to see what happens when you reduce a person to one disgusting habit or strange passion. Still, there are some successes: In "Bonsai," the narrator's secret obsession with a garden is a useful vehicle to explore how keeping secrets can be estranging. The husband's weekly visits to the greenhouse, which his wife once loved, persuade him that he's a cactus and she's a climbing vine, two plants that are too different to live together. While Nettel's odd characters unnerve, her insights are nervy and occasionally brilliant. Describing her mother's fear of dying, one character says, "When your mother is afraid it's as if suddenly she can no longer feed you, as if, right this minute, she'd take her breast out of your mouth." Or as the narrator of "Bezoar" observes about her mania: "When one has allowed oneself to be controlled for so long by actions one does not recognize as one's own...when one has loosened the sphincter of one's willpower...one knows even less if one's actions could be considered ‘irresponsible.’ "
Some readers will love Nettel's penetrating gaze while others may wish it were aimed at subjects less scatological.