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INVASION OF THE SPIRIT PEOPLE by Juan Pablo Villalobos Kirkus Star


by Juan Pablo Villalobos ; translated by Rosalind Harvey

Pub Date: July 12th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-91350-536-3
Publisher: And Other Stories

In an unnamed city, a man walks his dog—also, it’s possible that aliens have landed.

At the center of Villalobos’ wry, luminous, and witty new novel is Gastón, a man getting on in years who makes a living (more or less) from his vegetable garden and whose dog, Kitten (that’s right), is rapidly deteriorating—terminal cancer—and needs to be put down. Meanwhile, Gastón’s closest friend, Max, is deeply in debt and must close his restaurant; he’s so depressed, though, that he spends his days playing games on his phone rather than clearing out his business. Then there’s Max’s son, Pol, whom Gastón helped raise. Pol, a scientist, is either dangerously close to a psychotic break or has troubling news to share about the interplanetary aliens who colonized Earth. In previous novels, Villalobos established himself as a spinner of wild, absurd, occasionally experimental tales rooted—somehow—by deadpan narrators who seem to look their readers directly and steadily in the eye while expounding outlandishly. This novel, though it takes a somewhat gentler approach, is no exception. Its third-person narrator uses a calm and quiet tone and, at the same time that it’s unraveling all its various threads, also takes the trouble to make itself explicit. “There are lots of other characters in this story,” the narrator says, “but we’re going to accompany Gastón at all times, as if we were floating just behind him and had access to his feelings….” Then, what seems to be a story about one thing—or another thing—Villalobos slyly inverts. This is a book about xenophobia and racism and the conflicted tug between isolation and community. It makes a fine—and deliciously strange—addition to Villalobos’ already grand personal canon.

Wrought with tenderness, wit, and a wonderful sense of absurdity, Villalobos’ latest novel is a triumph.