A professor who studies the history of prison architecture stumbles into a peculiar misadventure while visiting a paramour in Buenos Aires.
In what might just be the strangest transmogrification of a writer in recent memory, Munson (The War Against the Assholes, 2015, etc.) completely abandons the adolescent angst of his first two novels to enter the surreal literary landscape of South America occupied so fully by writers like César Aira and the late Roberto Bolaño. This poetic, Byzantine short novel depicts the travels and increasingly unreliable account of professor Boris Leonidovich, who is invited by his professional colleague and occasional lover, Ana Mariategui, to speak at a conference at the University of Buenos Aires. As he meets new people, the professor identifies himself as “Boris Pasternak,” though, he notes, “No relation to the poet, novelist, and correspondent with Rilke.” What follows evolves into a phantasmagoric nightmare as Leonidovich wanders into a seedy barrio filled with stray dogs and a spooky graveyard. Back at the university, he finds students divided into camps, half wearing dog tags and broadcasting a hypnotic chorus the professor dubs “Dog Symphony” while protestors proclaim, “Ethics first, then meat.” When Ana disappears, Leonidovich seeks out Sanchis Mira, the conference organizer and head of the mysterious Department of Social Praxis, before encountering profound violence in the streets of Buenos Aires at the hands of an underground insurgency. Soon, this already outlandish narrative becomes as unhinged as its narrator as it hurtles toward an ambiguous, Kafka-esque denouement. Fans of Aira will find a curiously analogous style at work here, though whether it captures the Argentine writer’s humorous spark is questionable. For Munson, it’s a departure so abrupt that one wonders what inspired such a finely curated, grotesquely styled take on Argentine modernism.
An ambitious avant-garde experiment that might be generously read as homage.