“The Illiac Crest” describes the journey of a narrator whose fixed idea of the world gradually comes undone after being visited by two women; one who claims to be the Mexican writer Amparo Dávila and one who is an ex-lover ominously referred to as “the Betrayed”. The women take up residence in the narrator's house and develop a language of their own which the narrator is excluded from. It's a story which becomes increasingly surreal as the narrator who works as a doctor at a sanatorium investigates a former rebellious patient, seeks to uncover a lost manuscript and comes under suspicion by the facility's administration. At the same time the narrator visits a challenging older version of Amparo Dávila who claims the narrator really doesn't understand anything. Questions arise surrounding what makes an authentic identity in terms of gender, social standing, citizenship and political beliefs. When the young version of Dávila arrives at the house the narrator is drawn to the prominent bone of her pelvis and feels a mixture of desire and fear. The struggle to recall the name of this bone and acknowledge the truth lying beneath appearances becomes central to the story. This is such an intriguing book and I feel like it's going to take some time for its meaning to fully sink in.
Experimental fiction which uses a non-traditional approach to plot structure and characters feels like it works best for me when I'm engaged by the immediate story, but only feel its subtler effects as time progresses. There are so many intriguing parts in this novel like the way people come to be named by the narrator as “the Betrayed” or “the False One” as a way of narrowly defining or claiming ownership to them. But, at one point, the narrator switches from the one in authority to the one being prosecuted. It disrupts the narrator's sense of being and his/her certainty about the world. The conscious and unconscious world start to blur into each other. The more ardently the narrator tries to understand things and insist that he is a man the more confused the narrator becomes. I was particularly intrigued by how the narrator is so drawn to the ocean and staring at the ocean as a way of obliterating the need for control: “You need the ocean for this: to stop believing in reality. To ask yourself impossible questions. To not know. To cease knowing. To become intoxicated by the smell. To close your eyes. To stop believing in reality.”
It's interesting how this novel was first published in Mexico in 2002, but it's only just now been published in English for the first time. Its themes seem even more relevant today in terms of how borders are defined and laid out in a way which doesn't necessarily correspond with our subjective reality or the way we physically inhabit the world. These are the borders between one place and another and between one gender and another. The more rigidly these borders are defined the more conflict seems to arise. In the afterward, the novel's translator Sarah Booker describes how these themes are particularly relevant to Garza having grown up near the US/Mexico border. The novel seeks to disrupt our fixed ideas of reality as they've been socially constructed and demarcated by the society we inhabit. I enjoyed being immersed in its atmosphere of mystery and intrigue. I'm sure it'll be a book I'll think back on often and which will greatly benefit from a re-reading as it contains many hidden treasures.