Whiting Writers’ Award–winner Marcom (The Daydreaming Boy, 2004, etc.) obsessively explores the atrocities committed during the Guatemalan civil war.
An unnamed middle-aged man, overweight and with kidney problems, drives around Los Angeles picking up the carcasses of dead dogs. He eats great quantities of fatty foods, he drinks, he watches TV. But mostly he remembers, or imagines, a woman named Marta from the village of Acul in Guatemala. Marta died in 1982 after being tortured. Her hands were cut off. She was mutilated and raped. Perhaps the man was involved in killing her. Perhaps he was her torturer. Or her lover. Or he is imagining her existence and experiencing generalized guilt. The man, who is half-Armenian, also reflects on his mother’s memories of the 1915 genocide. But mostly he talks to Marta, spilling forth his worst sexual fantasies in coarsely graphic detail. Or are they fantasies? As lovemaking and torture are described and redescribed, the images pile up into a confusing nightmare. What happens in the first few pages is embellished, then embellished again. There is little forward motion; Marcom is not going for a story. The book is an indictment of Guatemalan dictators, U.S. expansionism and American values in general. The text includes a historical timeline and photographs of Los Angeles, Acul and the Der Zor Desert. Marcom’s language is always fervent, whether gorgeous or foul. But slogging through page after page of atrocities becomes grueling.
As Marcom notes in her peculiar diction, “In paradise the suffering is real and you no more real than this unreadable and unread book (will you read it, Reader? Do you?)”. Despite good intentions, most won’t.