Fernanda Trías (translated by Heather Cleary)
As a glance at any bookshop’s shelves demonstrates, Latin American fantastika is in the midst of a remarkable renaissance. From Argentina to Mexico, writers as various as Samanta Schweblin, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mariana Enríquez and Agustina Bazterrica are producing fiction that brilliantly appropriates the tropes of science fiction and horror to explore the psychic and social legacies of the region’s long history of colonial violence and dictatorship, social inequality and extractivism.
The latest of this string of exhilarating new books to find its way into English is Uruguayan novelist Fernanda Trías’s Pink Slime. The novel’s unnamed female narrator lives in a coastal city in which an algal bloom has poisoned the ocean and given rise to a toxic “red wind”. Although most of the city’s inhabitants have fled inland, the narrator remains, partly because her former husband, who has been exposed to the red wind, is hospitalised nearby, partly because of her unresolved relationship with her difficult mother, who also refuses to leave. While she waits she works as a carer for Mauro, a disabled boy whose appetite means he will eat anything, including his own flesh.
While these elements might suggest something familiar, even generic, Pink Slime reconfigures them in fascinating and often disquieting ways. Ecological collapse generates moments of startling beauty that are hauntingly captured by Heather Cleary’s elegant translation, such as the “silvery fish, like a carpet made of bottle caps or shards of glass”. Conversely the narrator’s memories of “the rancid stench of jellied meat and mouldy dirt” at the abattoir gives the lie to the industrial gleam of the processes that transform scraps and bones into the “meat toothpaste” known as pink slime.
The corporeal and its resistance to control haunts Pink Slime. Those infected by the red wind slough off their skin, while Mauro is trapped within his appetite. The narrator’s husband mortifies his flesh through fasting and exercise, hoping to “separate himself from his body, that indomitable desire-generating machine which knew neither conscience nor limits – repugnant but also innocent, pure”.
Simultaneously the novel enacts a sort of temporal unsettlement, occasionally slipping into future tense in a manner that suggests the events being related have not merely already happened, but were inevitable, a “future that has already arrived”. This device not only resists the expectation the novel’s final pages might contain some glib promise of hope, it lends the book as a whole a curiously charged quality, as if it were not fiction but rather a fading signal from a dying civilisation.
Scribe, 224pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 9, 2023 as "Pink Slime".
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