Three offbeat tales that border on the surreal yet are curiously (and paradoxically) anchored in a version of historical reality.
In the first story, “The Great Exception,” an unnamed admiral tells a queen he believes the Earth is pear-shaped rather than round and requests money to allow him to fulfill his vision of exploration. This she grants him, though his voyage concludes with the natives of “Kuba” cooking and eating him. (First, however, they sever his toes so he can't “tromp inland and subjugate the island.”) While awaiting word of the disposition of the admiral’s voyage, the queen pines for him with an intensity bordering on the sexual. In “Debouchment,” despite a woman’s disclaimer that life on an island (also reminiscent of Cuba) is not especially violent, a faith healer provides hope to the people in his illegal radio broadcasts—all this in a landscape where there are “humans hanging in the trees beyond the security fence.” The final story is the most complex and subtle, and it gives the collection its title. The action unfolds explicitly in Havana in 1952 against a backdrop of Batista's rise to power; it focuses on the mysterious Rachel K, a “zazou” dancer from Paris who entertains (in all senses) her male audience and particularly gets the attention of Christian de la Mazière, a French Nazi now living on the island after having been sentenced to five years in a rather cushy prison.
A short, quirky and sometimes-compelling book from the author of The Flamethrowers (2013).