Comemadre by Roque Larraquy

Heather Cleary’s 2018 translation of Roque Larraquy’s Comemadre is equal parts horror and comedy. In a sanitarium in Buenos Aires, a group of early twentieth century doctors craft an experiment that will allow them a glimpse into the afterlife. They build a machine to decapitate terminally ill patients and wait to hear the patients’ final words before their brain completely expires. Given the absurd premise, the minimal, yet impressive, prose devotes little time to unnecessary specifics. The book is viewed through the perspective of Dr. Quintana, and though he is a key member of the team, his pursuit of the head nurse Menéndez commands most of his attention to detail. The novel’s second section takes place in 2009 and concerns an artist’s manipulation of the body for the purposes of art. Larraquy uses family lineage to give the sections some concrete connection point, but more interesting is their shared dispassionate view of the human body. Little of the comedy comes out of the medical ineptitude of generations past as one might expect. Instead the book shows how the fetishization of the body spans generations, and how any attempt to elevate the human form into the divine is futile. I guess the joke is that we will never stop trying. —Dusty Freund