The first publication in English for a young Argentinian whose stories have appeared in European literary magazines as well as in South America. Both the thirteen short stories and the novel which comprise this volume are relatively short--some so short that they're no more than thunderclaps of the imagination. The several stories, organized under the rubric ""The Heretics,"" create a surreal atmosphere of black magic, religion, and mystery which lure each simple, unsuspecting character into a noose of his own, often macabre destiny. Featured are a creature of indeterminate sex, a talking apple, a child sired by nine wandering minstrels, and a tenant who seduces father, son, mother in seriatim. Clara, the innocent heroine of the novel, turns to whoring in the big city, and then exchanges one protector for another until she finds herself employed as the Aztec Flower--an illusory bodiless head on a table--in a provincial sideshow. The sluggish plot seems finally to be a set-up for the climax when her sadistic magician husband Melds a razor and a threat to perfect her act. Valenzuela's ideas have an intriguing novelty about them, but don't look too closely.