Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest has been compared to a David Lynch film, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a circular, unbounded story where nothing is certain: gender, chronology, borders and death are all ambiguous, both for the protagonist and the reader.
One night, two women arrive, hours apart, at the unidentified narrator’s house. One is apparently an ex-lover, the other a stranger who claims to be Mexican author Amparo Dávila. Their appearance turns his world in on itself, as all aspects of his previously insular life are questioned. In his hunt to find out why they’ve chosen to cling to him, his masculinity is doubted to the point where he frequently has to check to remind himself of his gender, his memories blur and fade in and out of reality, and his actions are fueled by the concept of appearance, disappearance and stability.
Garza has a flair for describing intense pleasure: paragraphs where the narrator is offered first whisky, then – in later pages – a cigar are laced with a dizzying hedonism, made all the more sensuous when juxtaposed against the creeping terror of nearly every other scene. Similarly intense, the ocean’s constant presence as a character in its own right introduces the concept of borders and finality to the text, reflecting themes as relevant today as they were when the novel was first published nearly 20 years ago.
The true significance of each individual word is due to the novel’s translator, Sarah Booker. The ambiguity of translation allows themes and motifs to take on numerous façades: the term ‘turn back’ is one which recurs throughout, and it is beautifully unclear each time whether it should be read literally or metaphorically. This vagueness blurs the line between sanity and insanity even more in this fever dream of a story. [Kirstyn Smith]