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The Rag Doll Plagues

av Alejandro Morales

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301635,542 (3)Ingen/inga
Time is cyclical and eternal, as a doctor and his descendants are condemned to enter into an ever-consuming battle with a mysterious plague in three separate moments in history: colonial Mexico, contemporary California and the next century in a newly emerged country.

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I am completely perplexed by this book. By any standard I know of, it is simply bad writing with no redeeming features. But when I poke around on the Internet, I find it is praised (or at least described) as either magic realism or something like magic realism. If that’s true, then it may be that no standard I know of is a fair one to use in judging this book. So, I won’t actually assert that it’s bad writing with no redeeming features. It may, for instance, be funny, and I just don’t get it. Or the author may be intending to challenge traditional standards of good writing by defying them all and tempting someone to call his work sophomoric, which would actually be falling into some sort of trap, somehow. So, I won’t call the book sophomoric.

It’s in three parts. Part one takes place in Mexico City, 1788, and relates the hopeless efforts of a Spanish doctor to fight an especially horrid plague. The plague eats away at the extremities and works its way toward the torso. Nothing will save the victims, once they contract the plague, but multiple amputations will slow its progress—hence the name of the book. The vivid and horrific nature of both the disease and the treatment lead me to believe this isn’t meant to be funny. But the narrator affects some sort of stilted language, which I guess is supposed to be the author’s impression of an English translation of late 18th century Spanish. So everyone who catches the plague dies, and the disease eventually moves on.

Part two is in contemporary Los Angeles. The narrator now is a chicano doctor, who is in love with an actress. We know he’s in love because he writes like someone in love—piling one metaphor on top of another until the meaning of a simple sentence has been obscured past recognition: “She was happy even in the stone-cold afternoon which hid little knives that carved their way through her body as she wrote on my arms and back silent undecipherable words. My skin against hers. We kissed. I searched for water in her green-blue eyes and I found stone.” OK—I got the “we kissed” part, but not much else. In part two, it turns out that AIDS was actually a secret weapon the USA set loose in Africa.

Part three is set in the gosh-wow future, where we have another narrator who can’t write. Here, I see the magic realism just fine. Plagues come from the sea, travel underground, and appear in some random city, for instance. The previous narrators reappear as “mechanical ghosts.” OK, fine. But, the stilted language of the previous sections has evolved into a sort of 1930s Golden-Age-of-Sci-Fi pedantry: “She piloted our emergency vehicle into the entry position on the computer travelway. She punched our code and destination and in thirty seconds, just enough time to prepare psychologically, our vehicle was catapulted into the supersonic travelway.” Common sense tells us that in such a world, nothing, absolutely nothing, would actually be called an “emergency vehicle,” or a “computer travelway” or a “supersonic travelway,” when there are perfectly good slang-like syllables out there. How about starting out with, “She zummed the flivver into the sling-dock”? But maybe that’s the difference between futuristic magic-realism and sci-fi. ( )
  skippersan | Apr 24, 2008 |
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Time is cyclical and eternal, as a doctor and his descendants are condemned to enter into an ever-consuming battle with a mysterious plague in three separate moments in history: colonial Mexico, contemporary California and the next century in a newly emerged country.

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