In this English-language debut by a Mexican literary star, the protagonist Germâan Alcantara Carnero is an ageless being capable of embodying entire eras, cultures, and conflicts. He travels through timeless Latin America to encounter the disappearance of a young girl, the confrontation between a father and his son, the birth of a sick child, a murder, and other violences that mark his homeland.
By leaping forward and backward in time across most of the 20th century while following one man’s violent life in a dusty mesa town, the novel strips away anything that might be construed as heroic. Instead, it evokes a sense of terrible acts constantly repeating in one place, history grimly folding back on itself. It’s a traditional western cut up and turned into an M.C. Escher print ... It’s hard not to hear a resemblance to Cormac McCarthy in bleak, lyrical prose ... But The Arid Sky also foregrounds Monge’s taste for literary gamesmanship, which draws heavily from Latin and South American experimentalists (Márquez, Cortázar, Bolaño all come to mind) as well as the Modernists ... Yet the novel thrives on a persistent feeling of universality, a sense that Germán’s scrambled life is a stand-in for many others ... What story, Monge asks, can we tell that will break that chain of rage and violence? The Arid Sky is a cutting, provocative attempt at an answer.
At times, the style and structure can be frustrating, as it’s so easy for the reader to become unmoored. Memories blur and it can be easy to lose track of where and when we are. However, this style reflects Monge’s overall message about the morphing shape of memories and how they all combine to form a person. While the explicit violence is hard to stomach, Monge’s novel is a brutal gem of a book concerned with the burdens of the past.
In Monge’s uneven English-language debut ... Carnero is an intriguing antihero, and the language, as translated by Bunstead, has its moments of spare sublimity ... Yet however self-knowing its narrative, the story is undercut by its ambitious but clunky structure and an unnecessarily metafictive narrator whose presence in the story is never sufficiently explained. The result is a bold but cloudy narrative.