Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Book: Tender Is the Flesh

Author: Agustina Bazterrica

Type of Book: Fiction, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: I had to read it twice to really get it, and when I got it, I felt compelled to write this monster of a discussion. Anything that inspires this much of a reaction has to be a bit odd.

Availability: Originally published in 2017 by Scribner, the English translation was published in 2020 by Pushkin Press. I read the Kindle version, but you can also get a paper version here:

*some links in this book discussion may be affiliate links to Amazon*

Comments:  Before I begin, let me be very clear on two points: this will be a very long discussion and I will be spoiling the novel entirely. If you have not read this book yet, and want to experience it fully, read this discussion after you have finished the novel.

So many people have discussed this novel in depth, paying a lot of attention to the dystopian nature of ecological destruction, the presciently eerie notion of a virus completely changing how the world lives, the repulsive brutality and cruelty that parallels American husbandry and slaughter of animals, and the notion of how fascism can quickly other entire sections of the population. These are unavoidable themes in this book, and so much happens in this short novel that it’s shocking how hard it can be to focus in on one area to discuss. Initially I was taken by the comparisons between modern butchery of animals and the ways humans designated as “special” meat in the novel are treated. However, when I reached the end, it was so brutal and stunning that I wondered if it was an unfair conclusion. I felt like the author had placed behavioral red herrings throughout the novel, forcing the reader to believe that the protagonist was a much different man than he really was.

I reread the book with the ending in mind and realized that was far from the truth. Bazterrica’s work has been translated into English, so there is no way that I can assert that what I read was exactly as Bazterrica wrote, but the translation neatly shows how wrong I was to think the ending came out of nowhere. As I reread I paid attention to the way the protagonist, Marcos, interacts with the women in the novel. Through his interactions with them, he shows the reader who he is, what he genuinely believes, and how his hypocrisies may uncomfortably mirror our own. This isn’t a feminist analysis but this is a novel that revolves around fecundity, sterility, and the ultimate separation between the good woman and the bad, the Madonna and the whore, domesticity and wilderness, and Marcos’s character is best revealed through the women in this book.

A short(ish) summary is needed before I discuss Marcos and the women who show who he is. This novel takes place in a dystopia in the not-too-distant future where a virus fatal to humans is found in all known terrestrial animals and birds. These animals are hunted almost as close to extinction as possible, but the need for meat causes society to slowly begin to rationalize, then legalize cannibalism. Those selected for meat are marked and branded and their lives and fertility are controlled in order to maximize meat production, while less ethical uses of these humans in hunts and terrible medical experiments are also legal. Marcos, our protagonist, lives alone in the country. His wife has gone to live with her mother after their infant son died in his sleep. Marcos is the right hand man for the owner of a meat processing facility, and his job is taking a terrible mental toll on him. One day he is given a female head (as in head of cattle, and note that when the terms “female,” “male” or “specimen” are used in direct quotes from the book, as well as “head,” the subject is a human being used as livestock) because a head supplier is trying to curry favor with Marcos. The arrival of this female sets in motion the events in the novel, set alongside the complete degeneration of human decency, because even if human meat isn’t cheap, life itself is and entire subclasses of people struggle to survive.

Marcos has reached a place of disgusted acceptance of his job and his life. He trains people to effectively and hopefully humanely stun and slaughter head, but also rejects and blacklists those whom he considers little more than serial killers or violent sadists looking to channel their urges into a paid job. He is forced to interact politely with companies and people who buy head in order to hunt them or perform terrible experiments on them, and he despises those people for purchasing the very product he sells. He holds in contempt those who refuse to engage in the social niceties that permit and absolve blame for legalized cannibalism, but also hates those who wholly engage in the social narrative. It’s hard for those around him to match his own back and forth, but those who do are treated far better than those who are complete outliers from the cognitive dissonance that governs his behavior.

There are six female characters in this novel who characterize Marcos. Mari is a secretary at Krieg and has worked there for years, for so long that she even knew Marcos’ father, who was also in the meat processing industry. Dr. Valka is a medical researcher who runs an appalling lab devoted to torture. Spanel is a woman who runs her own butcher shop and is utterly without empathy or sentimentality. Marisa is his sister, a vapid, shrill woman with social aspirations and very little in the way of maternal feeling for her two children. Cecilia, his wife, is a nurse and is emotionally devastated after they lost their baby, Leo, following years of fertility treatment. Finally, the most and strangely the least important woman in the novel is a female head who is eventually named Jasmine.

Tender Is the Flesh doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table. Media has offered a lot of movies and books about cannibalism in recent years. If you’ve read Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopic Never Let Me Go, you’ve gone down a path parallel to the one this book travels. Human beings are able to jump through some mighty twisty hoops to be able to justify our own craven desires. We tolerate abuses to other classes of living creatures that we would never stomach for our own. But Bazterrica does not focus on the people who are ill-used, as Ishiguro did. She shows the carnage and acrobatic moral relativism through the eyes of a man who seems like he is fairly resolute in his revulsion for the human meat market. We like Marcos because he seems more like us than anyone else in this novel’s hellscape. But the ending puts into question whether or not Marcos is a man dealing with the hand he has been dealt or if he is a plotting, opportunistic monster, and if that is the case, what does the novel tell us about ourselves? We are rooting for the best villain in a novel fairly teeming with them.

My very long analysis continues under the cut.

Mari and Dr. Valka

Mari and Dr. Valka are different sides of the same coin and the way Marcos treats them shows how he feels there are acceptable ways for women to react to brutality and cruelty.

Mari is a secretary at Krieg, the meat processing plant (slaughterhouse), and she embodies an acceptable approach to the savagery involved in a system that has exploited parts of the underclasses in such a way that they and all their progeny to come will be slaughtered for food. Mari is a creature of cognitive dissonance. She doesn’t revel in the slaughter, but finds it to be a necessary part of modern life. She obeys the laws and customs of her time and possesses a sentimentality for those like her. Mari is a nice, older woman. She gives little thought to the plight of head who are slaughtered for meat because they have been “bred” for it, yet she finds it abhorrent when people volunteer to be slaughtered and eaten. Head are not human, and humans should never be eaten, or so goes her thinking.

This logic of Mari’s becomes important when a new faith forms when mankind crossed over into eating humans. The Church of the Immolation’s credo is, “The human being is the cause of all evil in this world. We are our own virus.” The faithful in the church are selected to sacrifice themselves and offer their bodies up for consumption after they are killed. But for all sorts of legal reasons, they must be killed in Marcos’ slaughterhouse or their bodies will be cremated. The church will gather at the slaughterhouse, select one among them to sacrifice, and that person, in theory, walks onto the floor of the slaughterhouse to meet their fate. It vexes Mari when the church assembles in her place of work, and when an elderly man is selected for ritualized suicide, Mari is displeased, but endures it. However, she comes completely undone when a young woman is selected:

In the middle of the church’s discourse, Mari came downstairs shouting. A young woman committing suicide was an atrocity, she said, no one was saving the planet, the whole thing was nonsense, she wouldn’t allow a bunch of lunatics to brainwash a woman so young, they should be embarrassed, maybe consider mass suicide, and if they wanted to help, why didn’t they donate all their organs?

Marcos has to literally restrain her until she calms down and finally cries. There are a number of reasons why she is so upset by the girl dying, but it’s not because she relates to the young woman, nor is it because she fears the moral implications of such suicides as they relate to her own beliefs:

If a person with a first and last name can be eaten legally, and they’re not considered a product, what’s stopping anyone from eating anyone else.

Mari is viewing this young woman’s sacrifice as something deeply unnatural. Losing a young woman, a woman capable of giving birth, to a bizarre suicide cult is a net loss for mankind, in Mari’s mind. She doesn’t worry about legalities, nor does she worry that one day she could be taken for slaughter. She is comfortable in her place in the world. Her reaction is driven from a sentimental place, a decidedly “feminine” reaction, and her soft, angry but ultimately fruitless protest gives Marcos room to be the comforter without challenging his own shaky perceptions of what it means to be human and his role in killing thousands upon thousands of unlucky female head.

Another example of how Mari is closer to Marcos’ ideal of a good woman worthy of kindness and respect happens when he leaves his sister’s home on the day she is hosting a farewell ceremony to honor their father’s death. While he is driving home, Mari calls him, frantic, telling him there is an emergency at the plant. Mari’s outburst regarding church sacrifices aside, she is not given to high emotion or panic so he takes her call very seriously and drives to the plant.

The division between the poor and the rich has been exacerbated by the virus and the transition into using human beings for meat. The humans selected for consumption were cultural outliers, like illegal immigrants, and those initially forced to become sources of meat have now been bred and subject to genetic modification to speed up the birth to table timeline. Humans who are meant for slaughter are  branded on their foreheads at birth, and they are a thing apart in the struggle between the rich and the poor. Human meat is still scarce, so it is expensive, and people who cannot afford even the rotting offal some butchers offer at reduced price are forced to plunder cemeteries and eat the dead in order to have access to animal protein. Such people are called Scavengers and they are widely reviled by the middle-class and up.

Mari is calling because the inevitable has happened. Scavengers have attacked a transport truck that was carrying head to the processing plant and are hacking the head up. The road is covered in blood and entrails. Marcos sees a small, starving boy dragging an adult human arm and drives off just before he himself is attacked by a Scavenger with a machete. At the plant he discovers even the truck driver, Luisito, was killed and presumably eaten.

Mari is stricken by what has happened to the driver, Luisito, a good, young man with a family. She sobs about poor Luisito, killed by  degenerates who should have been wiped out long ago. She has no pity at all for the lower caste of people who were driven to violence due to starvation because they have stepped outside the law, and legalities are very important in this dystopia. Luisito was a good member of society, like the young woman chosen for sacrifice. Marcos endures Mari’s outburst, never pointing out anything illogical in her thinking, or suggesting that those who rushed the truck were driven to desperation due to the miserable conditions that radically limited their access to legally-acquired food. He comforts Mari, hugs her and and makes her a cup of tea. Remembering she has called him on the day of his father’s memorial, she tells him a nice story about his father and he kisses her hands. She then kisses him on the cheek.

On the way home Marcos feels sympathy for no one, not even the starving boy or Luisito. He felt bad about the boy when his eyes were on him but in the end none of it affects him. And eventually Mari will forget about Luisito, and her outburst of tears is acceptable because on some level it indicates she still honors what is considered humanity, even though the definition of humanity is far too limiting to be ethical. Marcos is sick of his job, of his life in this soulless and evil industry, but he also has to function in the world and there is a delicate balance between religious zealot and complete sadist. Mari straddles that line right in the middle, and it’s easier for Marcos to be kind to her because she props up, however temporarily, the idea that what he is doing in this world isn’t really as evil as the things other people do.

The same cannot be said for his interactions with Dr. Valka. Dr. Valka is the director of a research lab and when his boss Krieg tells him he must go to the lab and check to see if she needs more head for her experiments, he refuses. After an argument about it that nearly leads to Marcos resigning, Marcos agrees to go. It’s worth mentioning that Marcos is about as jaded as a human being can be and it is extremely alarming if a place is so awful he would rather resign than visit. But he does visit, and what follows is a tour through basically every sadistic bit of torture disguised as research that history has revealed and condemned.

Marcos is generally at least civil to Dr. Valka but that day he could not even fake it for business’ sake. She notices that something is different with Marcos when she boasts about winning a new award for her research.

Since he didn’t congratulate her, and she’s waiting for his congratulations, she says, “What was that?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

She looks at him, disconcerted. There was a time when he would have congratulated her.

Dr. Valka is a particularly horrible woman. When she was gravely injured by a lab specimen left loose by accident, many wondered if it was an accident at all.

…Valka is notorious for being demanding and mistreating her employees, and for her cutting comments. But her laboratory is the largest and most prestigious of its kind, so people put up with her, until one day they don’t. He knows at first they called her “Dr. Mengele” behind her back, but then experimenting on humans was normalized and she went on to win prizes.

In spite of his lack of interest, she keeps talking. She remarks on how hard it is to be a woman in her field, to earn respect. She goes on about how “it was her choice not to have a family, and socially she has to pay for it, because people continue to think women have to fulfill some biological plan…”

She wholly unlike Mari. Dr. Valka has completely rebuked the human woman’s role as child-bearer and certainly would never mourn for a young woman who sacrificed herself for her ideals about cannibalism.  In an attempt to goad Marcos into praising her, she continues showing him more experiments she is engaging in. Despite not wanting her own family, Dr. Valka is a demented midwife, birthing horror after horror:

They walk past a room with a specimen on a table. The specimen’s chest has been cut open and his heart is still beating. Several people stand around the table studying him. Dr. Valka stops to look through the window. She says that it’s wonderful to be able to record organ function when the specimen is alive and conscious. They gave him a mild sedative, she says, so he wouldn’t faint from the pain. Excitedly, she adds, “What a beautiful beating heart! Isn’t it incredible?”

She looks to him for a response and gets none. In her expression of emotion, she is not exhibiting simple happiness, as we will find later with Jasmine. Nor can she express proper sadness and grief, like Mari. Those are the two expressions that Marcos can tolerate from women and under stress he cannot indulge Dr. Valka.  Marcos observes a terrible experiment, in the vein of Harry Harlow’s attachment study with rhesus monkeys, where a female specimen is rendered unconscious continually with drugs while her toddler-aged child screams and cries with confusion and misery. Marcos asks, pointedly:

“What’s the point. Isn’t it obvious how the infant is going to react?” he asks her.

She doesn’t answer but she doesn’t really have to. Marcos notices there are a few animals on the premises because the ostensible mission of the lab is to find a cure for the virus that made cannibalism necessary. But that’s a front – the purpose of the lab is to buy head and torture them as specimens. Marcos feels absolute disgust for Dr. Valka and she coldly dismisses him when he subtly suggests that she might be incompetent.

But as despicable as Valka is, she is correct. As she was lecturing Marcos, she explains:

…being a man is so much easier, she says, this is her family  – the laboratory – but no one understands, not really, she’s revolutionized medicine, she tells him, and people continue to care whether her shoes are feminine, or that her roots are showing because she didn’t have time to go to the hairdresser, or that she’s gained weight.

Marcos is educated and open enough to understand that Valka is, indeed, held to a different standard in her field. Yet she also fails to understand that with Marcos, it’s not just appearance. She needs to express acceptable feminine reactions. Mari has no sympathy for head, but she would never look at a specimen’s open chest and speak beatifically about its beauty. She’d have little interest in the actual specimen but would also have little desire to harm it beyond what was needed to prop up the system. There is a dance Dr. Valka is refusing to or cannot engage in that makes her so anathema to Marcos.

Bear in mind, Dr. Valka is repulsive. But she is hardly the only torturer in this book. Later I will discuss a scene wherein Marcos dines with men who engage in human trafficking, meaning they cross over from head into free human beings, to sate their lusts, yet he manages to be civil. He expects brutality from men toward head and human. He expects women to be kind to humans and indifferent toward head. He cannot abide outright cruelty toward head and incivility toward humans from a woman. His separates women into two such categories apart from masculine behavior, and treats them as he sees proper based on his classification.

Spanel, the Butcher

Spanel is an icy sociopath and Marcos is strangely attracted to her. He has very little affection for her because she is simply not a woman one can have a connection with. Her refusal to connect with him on common ground intrigues him, and possibly irritates him as well because he observes in her emotion he cannot access.

For Spanel, touching, chopping, grinding, processing, deboning, cutting up what was once breathing is an automatic task, but it’s one done with precision. Hers is a passion that is contained, calculated.

For Spanel, nothing much changed with her emotionally when society transitioned to “special” meat:

…she’s indifferent to the world. The only thing she can do is slice meat and she does this with the coldness of a surgeon. The viscous energy, the cold air in which smells are suspended, the white tiles intended to affirm hygiene, the apron stained with blood, it’s all the same to her.

Interestingly, Marcos notes that the “fact that a woman ran the shop put everyone at ease.” This niggled at me and it took me a moment to realize why. It occurs to me that this goes beyond just the sort of feminine integrity we imbue women with because we assume them to be gentler and therefore more trustworthy. In times of horrible necessity when civilized people in established communities found themselves turning to cannibalism to survive, one can assume it was women who prepared the meat. We now know that the settlers at Jamestown were forced into cannibalism and while we lack records of how the human remains were prepared, rest assured it was a woman who prepared the food. The siege of Stalingrad caused babushkas to carve meat off the bones of the dead, and they did it to keep their families from starving. A woman in a butcher shop represents both the savage necessity to eat and the presence of the maternal to comfort.

But eventually Marcos tells us why he finds her so intriguing:

Spanel has an arrested beauty about her. It disturbs him that there’s something under the brutal aura she takes great care to give off. There’s something admirable in her artificial indifference.

There’s something about her he’d like to break.

Immediately after thinking about breaking Spanel, he returns home to his head. She’s in a barn and when he tries to rouse her by prodding her with his foot, she “protects her head and curls up further.” He wasn’t kicking her – he was nudging her, and it’s clear by now that this head he was given has experienced so much physical violence that it has triggered this automatic response. It’s interesting that he wants to break Spanel when he has a completely broken head at home in his barn.

She never looks at him. Her life is fear.

Jasmine really is afraid. But she doesn’t really know what awaits her. Spanel does, and in this they are the same, and Spanel is the only woman in this novel to truly understand how easily she can become livestock herself:

“I know that when I die somebody’s going to sell my flesh on the black market, one of my awful distant relatives. That’s why I smoke and drink, so I taste bitter and no one gets any pleasure out of my death.” She takes a quick drag and says, “Today I’m the butcher, tomorrow I might be the cattle.”

Marcos protests, telling her that surely she has the wealth to make sure her body isn’t stolen and consumed when she dies. Most people are cremated immediately after death to prevent the poor from digging them up and eating them. She scoffs at him.

“I’m surrounded by death, all day long, at all hours of the day,” she says, and points to the carcasses in the fridge. “Everything indicates that my destiny is in there. Or do you think we won’t have to pay for this?”

This is why he wants to break Spanel. She reminds him that he is implicit in what is happening, all of his high-minded feelings and disgust matter very little when it comes down to who he really is and what he really does. He is a man who has no intentions of paying for anything and he does not like being reminded of it.

One morning, after sleeping chastely in the barn with Jasmine, he realizes he is aroused by her. He refrains from having sex with her because humans having sex with head is a terrible crime in this dystopia. He cleans up and goes into town to see Spanel, whom he knows lives in her shop. She’s awake and at work so early in the morning, and the scene is terrible:

She’s clearly relaxed, as though she’s been expecting him. There’s a knife in her hand and she’s cutting an arm that hangs from a hook. It looks very fresh, as though she yanked it off a few seconds prior. The arm isn’t from a processing plant, because it hasn’t been bled dry or flayed.

The subtext is clear. At the very least Spanel is a woman who does not engage in ethical procurement of special meat, at worst she’s a monster, almost bestial. Earlier in the novel we are confronted with the slaughter of a female head. She is led into a box prior to slaughter:

Inside the box there’s very little space. It’s almost impossible for her to move. [The man who stuns her] places the stainless steel shackle, which runs along a vertical rail, around the female’s neck and clamps it shut. The female trembles, shakes a little, tries to free herself.

Marcos responds to this sight of Spanel slicing up head by literally scruffing her like an animal and exercising his sexual will with her as a prop, restraining her by the neck just as if she were head being readied for slaughter.

…he puts his hand through her hair and grabs her by the nape of her neck. He uses force to hold her there, and he kisses her. It’s a ravenous kiss at first, full of rage. She tries to resist, but only a little.

It gets worse.

He kisses her like he wants to break her, but he moves slowly. He undoes her shirt while he bites her neck. She arches her back, trembles, but doesn’t make a sound. He turns her face to the table and pushes her onto it.

Remember, the butcher table is covered in human blood. He degrades Spanel, forcing her to unzip his pants with her teeth, letting human blood drip onto him and making her lick it off. A man who is protective of Spanel witnesses the carnality in the butcher shop backroom, peering through a window but is locked out and unable to help, and it is questionable whether or not Spanel wants help. The entire scene is passionate, bloody and absolutely lacking in humanity. Afterward, Spanel sits naked in a chair, and smiles, “showing all her teeth.” He leaves without saying a word.

That is the end of Spanel in this novel. She responded to his sexual overtures, though shows just enough resistance to convey to him that this was not going to upset her nearly as much as he wanted while also making it clear this was nothing she’d deign to initiate with him. Spanel knows the score and refuses to play into the behind-the-scenes euphemism and moral gymnastics. That sort of resolute refusal to play games puts her outside the boundaries of the acceptable feminine for Marcos so he tries to put her in her place in one of the most tried and true ways: degrading and possibly unwanted sex.

There is a script that women who are sexually violated and broken follow. It’s become a cliché in cinema for a raped woman to immediately seek to clean herself, sinking into a hot shower, sobbing. A beaten woman will curl into a fetal position and protect her head, like Jasmine did in the barn. Instead, Spanel sits naked at the scene, and smiles at him in a grimace that shows all her teeth, almost like she is baring her teeth rather than smiling. She cannot be broken and she ceases to occupy space in his mind. The mystery of her nature is no longer interesting to him if he cannot strip her of it.

Marisa, the Sister

Marisa is Marcos’ sister, and though their relationship deteriorates through the book, from the beginning we know Marcos dislikes her. She left the cost and maintenance of their elderly father entirely to him, and has suburban desire to appear proper and prosperous. None of this matters to Marcos, and obviously the nature of his job – acquiring head to sell and teaching others to slaughter head – has caused him to see the purchase and consumption of special meat to be anything but a status symbol. But he also has a job that pays him extremely well and he is, in a sense, a nepotism baby and a high-level executive. He makes a lot more money than Marisa’s family, and has access to more status symbols. It’s easy to dismiss what you don’t want if you know you can have it any time you like.

With this being said, Marisa is a tiresome, grasping, crowd-driven woman. We first see him truly interact with Marisa right after the messy scene with Spanel. Marisa calls and wants him to come for lunch, and even though he dislikes Marisa, he feels her company would be easier to deal with than going home to Jasmine, who is still unnamed and unwashed in the barn.

Marisa is hidebound to certain social customs and is easily scandalized when her brother does not conform. For instance, people in cities carry umbrellas all the time, ostensibly to protect them from any wild birds that might be carrying the virus. Marcos refuses to do this.

His sister pushes him into the house and looks around. She’s worried that the neighbors will see her brother without an umbrella.

Marisa, who calls her brother, Marquitos, to his deep annoyance, is very much interested in giving the appearance of affluence and follows trends regarding special meat. Marcos pities her husband, who he believes “is a man trapped by his circumstances, by a wife who’s a monument to stupidity and by a life he regrets having chosen.” Marisa has two children but Marcos doesn’t think she is very interested in being a mother.

…she had her kids because it’s one of the things you’re supposed to do in life, like throwing a party on your fifteenth birthday, getting married, renovating your home, and eating meat.

Marisa tries to goad him into sharing his emotions about losing Leo and his wife leaving the marital home, but he isn’t having it, so she downshifts into nagging him about the umbrellas. The conversation they have is one of the funny moments in this heavy novel.

“I don’t need one. Nobody needs one.”

“Everyone needs one. There are areas that don’t have protective roofs. Do you want to get yourself killed?”

“Marisa, do you seriously think that if a bird shits on your head, you’re going to die?”


Marisa then natters on about the dystopian version of tamagotchies, where children and adults create virtual pets, while claiming poverty so Marcos won’t press her to contribute to their father’s care. As Marcos sits and waits for Marisa’s children to come home from school, he has a realization.

He notices a door near the sink that he doesn’t remember. It’s the kind of door found in households that raise head. He can tell it’s new and hasn’t been used. Behind the door is a cold room. Now he understands why his sister invited him over. She’s going to ask for head at a good price so she can raise them.

Hilariously, his niece and nephew, twins who have their own special language to speak, have a game wherein they guess what other people might taste like. Marisa reacts with a fierceness:

His sister takes her knife and stabs it into the table. The sound is furious, swift. “Enough,” she says slowly, weighing the word, controlling it. The twins look at her with surprise. He’s never seen his sister react this way. He looks at her silently and chews a bit of his cold rice, feeling sad about the whole scene.

“I’ve had it with this game. We don’t eat people. Or are the two of you savages?”

These kids know they are eating human beings and don’t care and therefore don’t have to maintain a facade of civility. That may be one of the reasons their uncle dislikes them so much. Marisa does eventually ask for him to sell her head, and he becomes annoyed and immediately brings up their father and asks when the last time the twins visited him.

His sister looks at him with surprise and contained fury. Their tacit contract implies not humiliating her, and he’s always respected it. Until today.

He leaves just after, and his sister demands he take an umbrella, which he throws in the trash on his way to his car, knowing he is further humiliating his sister, who is watching him through the window. She is horrified that the neighbors will see.

When their father dies, Marcos keeps his sister at arm’s length and refuses even to discuss with her the farewell/memorial service that Marisa wants to host. He demonstrates his contempt for Marisa in front of the woman who has cared for his father, and his behavior is so icy that she speaks up. She tries to encourage him to consider that in such a hard time he will want to be kinder to his sister.

He tries to recall when it was, exactly, that Nélida went from being a nursing home employee to someone who believes she has the right to give advice and her opinion, and to fall again and again into platitudes and irritating clichés.

If a woman who has taken care of his father in the most laborious and intimate of ways during the last years of his life does not have the right to speak her opinion to him, who does? He takes his fathers ashes, dumps them in an empty zoo, refills the urn with dirt and cigarette ash and sets it aside for his sister. When his sister tries to speak to him about the service, he delays negotiations with her, but eventually bends to her desires. Still, he keeps poking at her. She calls him as he is driving to the farewell ceremony, asking about the urn, anxious that he get there on time. He drives even slower when he realizes how upset she is. He also took special enjoyment in not carrying an umbrella as he watches his sister’s staid and fearful friends carrying umbrellas with them into the house.

He looks at his sister and thinks there’s something strange about her. Then he looks more closely and realizes she’s wearing makeup, has been to the hairdresser, and has on a tight black dress. None of it’s over-the-top, so as not to show a complete lack of respect, but she’s sufficiently put together to look good at what is without a doubt her event.

There is a sort of theater to funerals and memorials. We dress in specific ways to show respect for the dead. Is her dress tight? Probably, but getting one’s hair done before an funeral is not as grasping and vain as he might think. Marisa is incapable of subtlety. If she is not being over-the-top, then likely she is just following a basic social norm that Marcos does not respect, or perhaps refuses to respect because his sister does. He feels she is putting on an act, even down to how she displays the urn, filled with dirt and cigarette ash, on the table. He’s right. She has an electronic picture frame that shows pictures she has carefully doctored to show a more loving and expansive relationship with their father than she had really experienced. He loathes how she wants to appear nicer than she is, to have been a more attentive daughter. But again this is not outrageous behavior – plenty of people have regrets when a neglected relative dies and prefer to pretend rather than face reality.

He just wants to sit there and get through the experience as best he can but around him people are talking about “special” meat. Special meat is becoming cheaper now that India has decided to sell and export, driving down the price. As she is trying to play the role of the excellent host combined with mourning daughter, Marcos hears Marisa begin to talk about something unsettling.

“It’s based on the technique of death by a thousand cuts. That’s right, it’s from the book that just came out. The best seller. I have no idea, my husband’s the one who takes care of it.” What could his sister possibly know about a form of Chinese torture? He stands up and moves closer so he can keep listening.

As he stands listening, he sees a human arm being sliced on a platter.

The guests try the arm and say, “It’s exquisite, really fresh. Marisa’s such a great hostess. You can tell how much she loved her father.” Then he remembered the cold room.

He rushes away from the guests and his sister, dreading what he thinks he is about to see.

When he reaches the kitchen, it’s as if he’s been struck by a smell that’s rancid, if fleeting. He walked toward the door to the cold room. He looks through the glass and sees a head without an arm. So she got herself a female, that skank, he thinks. Domestic head are a status symbol in the city; they give a household prestige.

His sister has purchased an FGP. FGP stands for “first generation pure,” meaning that this head has not been raised with hormones to speed her growth. She is expensive and her meat is a status symbol.

The title is Domestic Head: Your Guide to Death by a Thousand Cuts. The are red and brown stains on the book. He feels he might vomit. Of course, he thinks, she’s going to carve the head up slowly, serving pieces every time she hosts an event. The death-by-a-thousand-cuts thing must be some sort of trend, if all her guests are talking about it. An activity for the whole family, cutting up the living being in the fridge, based on a thousand-year-old form of Chinese torture.

He tries to open the door to the cold room but it’s locked. His sister comes bustling into the kitchen and he can’t hold back.

“You disgust me.”

She looks at him, her expression between shocked and indignant.

He goes on to insult her and her children and she tells him that even if he is upset he cannot insult her in her house in this manner. He tells her she is a superficial and empty person and asks if she ever really cared about their father. He moves to storm out of the house.

He stops and grabs her by the arm, and says into her ear, “If you keep fucking with me, I’ll tell everyone how you did nothing when it came to Dad, understood?”

He then leaves and she rushes after him.

“Take the urn, Marquitos.”

For a few seconds, he looks at her in silence. Then he gets into the car and closes the door. His sister stands there, not knowing what to do until she realizes she’s outdoors and doesn’t have an umbrella. She looks up at the sky in fear, covers her head with her free hand and runs into the house.

Marisa, who has children but no real maternal nature, is offensive to Marcos and that is not the least reason among them. But his main criticism with her is her grasping desire to appear prosperous without money, to appear dutiful without being dutiful. She lacks the kindness and genuine emotion Mari displays, and her acceptance of the lie does not come from a place of emotional honesty like Spanel. It comes from a place of useless societal aspiration. While I don’t have as much sympathy with Marcos as I did during the first reading of this book, one cannot help but understand why he despairs of and ultimately despises Marisa. To keep human head in a refrigerator and cut them up piece by piece is degenerate, but Marcos’ reaction stands in hypocritical contrast with the way this novel ends. He embodies “rules for thee but not for me.”

Cecilia, the Wife

Cecilia is the least discussed of the women I’ve selected to analyze. Though we know about her struggles with fertility and the loss of her son, she is mostly an afterthought confined to phone calls until the final scene. After the death of Leo, Cecilia retreats to her mother’s home and stays there for close to a year. Though Cecilia is a nurse, she asked Marcos to give her the first fertility shot:

She’d given millions of them, trillions, countless injections, but she’d wanted him to inaugurate the ritual, the start of it all. His hand had trembled a little because he hadn’t wanted it to hurt, but she’d said, “Go on, dear, just put the needle in, go on, you’ve got this, it’s no big deal.” She’d grabbed a fold in her stomach and he’d put the needle in and it hurt, the medicine was cold and she’d felt it enter her body, but she’d hidden it with a smile because it was the beginning of possibility, of the future.

But Cecilia simply did not produce enough eggs and needed to rely on an egg donor, using Marcos’ sperm. All their relatives questioning them about a baby, fertilized eggs that Cecilia miscarried, the expense of infertility treatments, and Cecilia’s struggle to come to terms with the hard-won idea that motherhood was more than the physical capacity to become pregnant, all became worth the struggle when Cecilia finally bore fruit, but when that fruit died, Cecilia simply could not cope.  Marcos would call, and often speak to her mother when Cecilia didn’t feel up to talking. Her mother urged him to remember that Cecilia loved him, that she was just grieving. Marcos did his best but when he was given the female, his time became spent on Jasmine and he fretted less about Cecilia.

Interestingly, Cecilia could feel him pulling away.

She’s been calling more often lately. He’s afraid she wants to come home.

It was about here that I had hope that perhaps Marcos would find a way to make Jasmine a companion rather than a pet he has sex with, because Cecilia coming home was something he had wished for fervently. If he wanted to avoid it it was, I hoped, because he wanted to carve out an existence with Jasmine.

He’s been trying to avoid her, but that’s just made it worse. She can feel his impatience, see that the pain has become something else.

“You’ve already forgotten about me, about us.” The “us” she refers to isn’t limited to her and him, it includes Leo, but saying so out loud would be cruel.

His wife calls him when she gets the news he has lost his father. Again she notes that he seems different, watching his image from her phone screen.

“You look different, strange.”

“I’m the same.”

“It’s just for a while now you’ve seemed more distant.”

“You don’t want to come home. Do you expect me to spend my whole life waiting for you”

“No, but it’s just… I’d like us to talk.”

“When I’m doing better, I’ll call you, okay?”

When he gets home he curls up with Jasmine, humming music in her ear.

And that’s about all we get of Cecilia until the novel’s brutal ending.

Jasmine, the Head

The head given to Marcos is an expensive gift. She is an FGP, and as such costs far more than genetically modified head. She has no self-awareness of herself as human or as a future source of special meat. This gift is a burden to Marcos because he is still missing his wife and mourning his son, and has no desire to slaughter her. Still, he decides to care for her until he decides what to do with her. He puts her in the barn, feeds her and waters her. After a few days, he comes home one evening, thinking of his dead son and absent wife. He feeds Jasmine, and then drags Leo’s crib and other things out into the yard and burns them. He then lets Jasmine loose from the rope that was preventing her from running away. He consumes a bottle of whiskey and sits outside, watching the animals painted on his son’s furniture burn away.

The last thing he sees is the door to the barn and the female, that woman, looking at him. It seems like she’s crying. But there’s no way she understands what’s happening, she doesn’t know what a cot is. She doesn’t know anything.

It’s the intense desire to deny emotions in the head that are a clue as to what may happen at the end. Of course Jasmine may not know what a human baby’s cradle is, but she sees a distraught man burning something. Of course she is experiencing emotion based on understanding of some sort. It could just be empathy for him, as he is clearly in pain. But he doesn’t want to believe that is possible.

When he wakes in the morning Jasmine is curled up asleep next to him. She has a brand on her forehead, denoting her status as property, and small brands all over her body, one set of “FGP” for each year she has been alive. Marcos takes in her beauty, appreciates the innocence in her, especially in her inability to speak or understand speech. Then he thinks:

She’s gorgeous, he thinks, but her beauty is useless. She won’t taste any better because she’s beautiful.

This is important and a clue for what is to come. No matter what, Jasmine will remain a commodity to him.

In a later scene, Marcos arrives home thinking of the two dogs he had once loved and had to kill himself when the virus caused angry mobs to burn animals alive. He decides to wash Jasmine. He links caring for her to caring for animals. He goes to get a bucket but as he does it begins to rain and he decides to wash her in the rain.

He soaps the female’s hair and she looks at him with terror. To reassure her, he sits her down in the grass. Then he gets on his knees behind her. Her hair, which he moves around clumsily, fills with white soapsuds. He goes slowly, he doesn’t want to frighten her. The female blinks and moves her head to look at him in the rain; she writhes and trembles.

The number of FGP brands indicate she is only twenty years old. He finishes washing her, combs her hair, and then hugs her.

He runs his hand over the mark on her forehead where she’s been branded. Then he kisses it, because he knows she suffered when they did it to her, just as she suffered when they removed her vocal cords so she’d be more submissive, so she wouldn’t scream when she was slaughtered.

And now that she is clean, submissive, silent, he has sex with her, even though it is one of the most taboo things he could do. He treats her gently, completely differently than he treated Spanel. No scruffing her neck, no overt attempts at humiliation. She is broken. He doesn’t have to try to master her.

The novel skips several months. Marcos has named Jasmine and moved her into the house. He initially has to tie her up when he leaves  so she will not go outside or hurt herself. She has slowly become domesticated, able to tolerate household noise, like the television. She grows to enjoy new food, music, warm showers. She grows accustomed to being clothed, and more concerning, she is eight months pregnant. He keeps her locked in a room when he is gone, with crayons and food, and wishes he could teach her to read but sees no point in even trying to teach her to speak – she can never be a member of society with that brand on her forehead and the brands all over her body. He enjoys living with Jasmine but her presence in his life has caused his work to suffer. Marcos takes several weeks off from work to socialize Jasmine in a vacation that sounds like a form of paternity leave:

He asked Krieg for the holiday he hadn’t taken and spent several weeks at home, teaching her how to live in a house, how to sit down at the table for dinner, how to hold a fork, how to clean herself, how to pick up a glass of water, how to open a fridge, how to use the toilet.

When he learned Jasmine was pregnant, it bode terrible things:

The baby couldn’t be his, not officially, not if he didn’t want them to take it away, put it in a breeding center, and send Jasmine and himself straight to the Municipal Slaughterhouse.

He takes extremely careful care of Jasmine during her pregnancy:

There are mattresses on the floor. The room contains no furniture within reach; nothing that could hurt her. He set it up this way when he found out she was pregnant. He didn’t want to risk something happening to his child and took all the necessary precautions.

Emphasis mine. She may be carrying his child but he has to care for Jasmine like she is a baby. He has redecorated the room he and Cecilia had prepared for Leo. He had to make new furnishings, as he could not buy them and potentially reveal what was going on.  He plans to keep this baby sleeping next to him in a bassinet so he can make sure it doesn’t stop breathing in its sleep like Leo did.

He installed cameras so he can keep an eye on Jasmine while he is at work. While he feels she has turned his bleak house into a home, she is still a baby he has to prevent from putting her hand in fire and drawing on the floor. But even then, he doesn’t think she is as sapient as a baby, because as he watches her via camera, he sees her often stare off into space.

At times, it seems she’s thinking, like she really can.

It’s fascinating that he does not think she is capable of any sort of thought. He has had dogs as pets, and he knows that they have memories. Why does he feel that Jasmine has less going on mentally than a dog, that she is incapable of ruminating about her recent past?

While he is protecting Jasmine, he is forced to do business with hunters who like to kill human prey. The procurer, a loathsome man called Urlet, demands more “impregnated females.” They are more savage and less docile than unfertilized females. Marcos observes the hunters at the lodge and notes that one of them has killed a woman who was around six months pregnant. One of the men at the lodge is an unscrupulous provider of head, Guerrero Iraola, who insists that Marcos stay for dinner.  Marcos wanted no part of it, but he has to stay because he needs to remain friendly even to the scumbags in his industry. Guerrero introduces Marcos to his colleagues in flowery and lofty terms. Marcos has a different point of view:

If he had to honestly tell others who he was, he’d say: This is Marcos Tejo, a man whose son died and who moves through life with a hole in his chest. A man who’s married to a broken woman. This man slaughters humans because he needs to support his father, who’s lost his mind, is locked up in a nursing home, and doesn’t recognize him. He’s going to have a child with a female specimen, one of the most serious crimes a person can commit, but he doesn’t care in the slightest, and the child is going to be his.

Emphasis mine. But even as he is disgusted by these men, Marcos realizes he is enjoying the “fresh fingers” he is eating. He really misses consuming meat.

Marcos is a remarkably weak man. He had found a litter of puppies in an abandoned zoo and named them after the members of the Rolling Stones. He visited the zoo after eating those “fresh fingers” and finds some young hoodlums torturing and killing the animals. He doesn’t even try to intervene and leaves the puppies to have their brains dashed out and set on fire while still alive. His moral cowardice is only conquered when he is in the presence of weak examples of ridiculous social norms like those held by his sister. His physical cowardice is only overcome when he wants to break someone weaker than him, like Spanel. He is a man ruled by bureaucracy and he is the strongest when he can use status and connection to thwart threats.

Having sex with head is anathema and laws and rules exist to separate head from humans and when people break those rules it can result in their death. When authorities learn someone has been given head as a gift, they inspect it and ensure it is eventually sold or slaughtered. Occasionally they come across someone who has taken a female head and used it as a sex slave. In one such case, wherein a female head is kept under the bed in a coffin-like box (reminding one of the story of Colleen Stan), the woman of the house breaks down:

She began to cry and told them that her husband had sex with the head and not with her, that she couldn’t take it anymore, she’d been replaced by an animal, and couldn’t bear the idea of sleeping with that disgusting creature under the bed. She was humiliated and if they sent her to the Municipal Slaughterhouse for being an accomplice, she didn’t care, all she wanted was to go back to a normal life, to life before the Transition.

The poor female head was useless for most purposes because when head are bred, they receive semen from a specific source and the insemination is documented. That way if the head becomes pregnant, the father is known and the fetus is essentially assigned an identification number based on the DNA of its origin. The head was sold to what sounds like a brothel for raped head, the woman was fined and her husband was indeed sent to slaughter.

These are issues that plague Marcos and he uses his connections with officials to fend off inspectors from finding out what is going on with Jasmine. They know he has Jasmine because even this gift has been registered as livestock and must be inspected. The last inspection is tense, and the inspector picks up on the reasons behind Marcos’ desire to keep him away from Jasmine, and Marcos knows that when his connection, one Mr. Pineda, is no longer on the job, he will be in deep trouble:

He smiles in a way that’s artificial, tense. It’s a smile that hides several questions and one threat: What are you doing with the female? Are you enjoying her? Are we talking illegal use of another’s property? Just you wait until El Gordo Pineda isn’t around anymore. Just you wait, you and your special privileges, you’re going to pay.

Once the inspector is gone he returns to the room where Jasmine is tied up and hugs her, crying. An entire chapter is devoted to the one paragraph describing his grief. He also comments to himself that he never would have predicted he would be breaking the very rules he had helped set into place. There are two very different ways to interpret that statement.

The next chapter is spent with Marcos and Jasmine spending the day together, eating sandwiches, listening to jazz. Marcos tries to make Jasmine dance with him, and while she sort of gives in, she doesn’t really get it.

They spend the rest of the afternoon beneath the tree and he thinks he can feel Koko and Pugliese dancing with them.

Those two names? Those were the dogs he loved but had to kill when the virus caused people to violently destroy animals.

As Jasmine’s pregnancy progressed, he did his best to prepare.

When he learned she was pregnant, he put together a complete first-aid kit, picked up books on the subject, brought home a portable ultrasound machine, one of the ones they used at the plant to check impregnated females before they’re sent to the game reserve. He trained himself to care for her and follow the stages of her pregnancy. Though he knows it is not ideal, it’s the only option available to him because if he were to call a specialist, he’d have to register the pregnancy and provide documentation for the artificial insemination.

But Marcos does not seem to be a lucky man. Predictably, on the day of this father’s memorial service and dealing with the attack on the trailer full of head, when Marcos gets home, he finds Jasmine is in labor.

He runs up to her and sees that the mattress is soaked with brownish green fluid. “No!” he yells. He knows, because of all he’s read, that if the amniotic fluid is green or brown, there’s a problem with the baby. He doesn’t know what to do other than pick Jasmine up and take her to his bed so she’s more comfortable. Then he grabs his phone and calls Cecilia.

After remarkably brief questioning, Cecilia agrees to drive over, not knowing why Marcos is panicked. Her mother does not live in the country so it will take her some time to get there. He cannot bring himself to do anything but cling to Jasmine and tell her repeatedly that she will be fine, the birth will be fine.

He looks at the print hanging above his bed, at the Chagall his mother loved so much. It’s then that he prays, in a way. He asks his mother for help, wherever she is.

He doesn’t ask God for help. He does not call upon his recently deceased father. He calls upon his mother. Women shape his universe, women dictate his every move, be they human or head. Of course he called on his mother in a time of crisis.

When Cecilia arrives he does his best to appeal to her humanity, asking her as a medical professional to please help Jasmine. When she finally understands that Jasmine is head and Marcos is the father of the baby, she loses it.

“Are you crazy? Do you want to end up in the Municipal Slaughterhouse? How could you have been with a female? You’re sick.

He goes to her, slowly lifts her to her feet, and hugs her. Then he says, “The amniotic fluid is green, Cecilia, the baby is going to die.”

Hearing this flips a switch in Cecilia and she springs into action. The birth is complicated, and the baby is coming out feet first. Cecilia orders Marcos from the room because his haphazard attempts to help and to comfort Jasmine are making things worse.

He waits behind the door to the room, his ear pressed against the wood. There are no shouts, just Cecilia’s voice saying, “Come on, honey, push, push, that’s it, come on, you can do this, harder, it’s on its way now, come on, love, that’s it, that’s it,” as though Jasmine can understand her. Then there’s complete silence. The minutes pass and he hears Cecilia yell, “No! Come on, little one, turn around, come on, honey, push, come on, it’s almost there, almost there. Please, God, help me. You are not going to die on me, no fucking way, not while I’m here. Come on love, that’s it, you can do this.”

Cecilia delivers a living baby boy, cleans up and cuts the cord, and hands the baby to Marcos.

He looks down at his son in disbelief. “He’s beautiful,” he says, “he’s just beautiful.”

The Final Scene

But there is a problem. Cecilia, lady of the house, is back, and she has taken ownership of everything within, which is her right. She tells Marcos:

“Go get some more towels and water to clean her before you take her out to the barn,” Cecilia tells him.

He gets up and gives his son to Cecilia, who begins to rock and sing to him. “He’s ours now,” he tells her, and she looks at him, unable to respond.

Jasmine, rising from the bed in an attempt to grab her son, breaks a lamp and cuts herself on the glass during another attempt to take her son from Cecilia. Marcos keeps kissing her forehead, trying to calm her but she keeps screaming without making a sound. Finally he grabs her hair, immobilizing her as he clubs her on the brand on her forehead, stunning her into unconsciousness.

Cecilia jumps when she hears the thud and looks at him without understanding. “Why?” she yells. “She could have given us more children.”

As he drags the body of the female to the barn to slaughter it, he says to Cecilia, his voice radiant, so pure it wounds, “She had the human look of a domesticated animal.”


Perhaps one of the reasons this book is so odd is because you seldom see an author so deftly set her reader up for this sort of blow to the head. The stunning ending mimics the stunning blow Jasmine receives. I think any moral person quails at the notion of making the consumption of human beings an industry regardless of whether or not any other animals on earth exist. We like that Marcos is angry at the  system he has a hand in propping up. We even rationalize away some of the more morally questionable decisions Marcos makes regarding his own interactions with the feral woman he possesses because we think we know where this book is going. And I say “we” presumptuously because perhaps only I missed where the novel was headed.

That I was willing to overlook some of what was going on with Marcos because I felt he was perhaps the best villain in a novel full of monsters shows my own cognitive dissonance. Marcos ends up naming and having sex with a female head, one of the greatest transgressions one can commit in that particular Brutal New World, but having sex with her can be either a gross sexual violation against a food source, or a carnal admission that the food source really is a human being who should be interacted with as a human being.

Either option is bad. And perhaps that is the takeaway here – humanity’s greed, gluttony and cruelty has backed us into such a corner that we can’t get out of morally. It was foolish for me to think Marcos would somehow ex machina this plot to be able to raise Jasmine up from her status as a food source because the world he lives in simply will not permit it. But it was also foolish to think that Marcos even wanted to make an ethical decision because his interactions with the women in his world show him for who he is. He is a man who rewards the perspectives that the anodyne Mari and the wounded mother Cecilia bring to the table: nurture for those who are human and soft but ultimately self-serving ambivalence for those who are arbitrarily deemed non-human. He despises women who refuse to give quarter to niceties that enable people to eat other people or use them for terrible experiments, going so far as to try to sexually break Spanel for her disregard for the myth that real humans need never fear the abuses they heap on others. Throughout the entire novel, Marcos treats Jasmine like a baby incapable of any sort of inner life or he equates her to his dogs. And at the end of it all, he calls upon his mother and his wife to save him spiritually and literally from the terrible mess he made when he decided to have sex with a living being he considered akin to a pet. I should not have been shocked by the ending, given all the information Bazterrica gave me.

At the end I was of course appalled by what these two human beings did to what we all know is a fellow human being. Cecilia being angry that Marcos didn’t think to keep her on hand for future children, essentially giving him license to repeatedly rape what she considers an animal, whom she will keep in a barn while bringing in that animal’s offspring to raise as her own human children, makes one wonder really who the worst villain in this novel really is, or if in the presence of such miserable dehumanization of people there can really be villains at all when everyone is willing to justify unnecessary cannibalism.

But in the end I think Marcos is the still the villain of this piece. I say this after contrasting the final scene with a scene earlier in the novel, where Marcos is sitting at a hunting lodge with men who like to hunt head, especially pregnant females. This is the same scene when Guerrero gives him the introduction he mentally disagrees with. This cabal of “most dangerous game” hunters also like to dabble in human trafficking.

The men gathered for dinner at the hunting lodge are discussing some of the benefits available at a certain cabaret:

He’s using code words because it’s known that the place is a seedy club involved in human trafficking, with one minor difference: after paying for sex, a client can also pay to eat the woman he’s slept with.

These are referred to as humans. Women. In a world like this where you can openly eat people if you use the right euphemisms, men still have to abduct women to abuse. Guerrero boasts about his time spent with a gorgeous blonde that he spent billions to rape and consume. One of the fellow hunters clarifies the situation under his breath:

…the stunning blonde was in fact a young virgin of fourteen who needed to be tenderized and that Guerrero Iraola destroyed her in bed, raping her for hours. The man says he was there and that the child was half dead when they took her to be slaughtered.

“Tenderized.” It may be hard to compare Guerrero and Marcos but the only differences between what happened are the social status of the victims and that Guerrero paid for the privilege of raping and then killing the girl he victimized. Marcos was given his victim for free. He made her more aesthetically palatable, had sex with her, brought her inside, had his wife deliver her baby, then stunned her before dragging her to the barn in anticipation for slaughter. It’s hard to imagine a more thorough tenderizing for meat than what was done to Jasmine.

Marcos can easily forge paperwork that would show Jasmine had been slaughtered when she was really living with him. Even his wife knows this. But he didn’t do that. Even after the inspector made it clear he would eventually nail Marcos for keeping female head for sex, he did not cover his tracks immediately. If he had planned to keep her, even just as a source of children, he would have forged records to erase her legal existence. He always planned to slaughter Jasmine. The moment she was pregnant, it was “his” child. He never anticipated having his wife deliver the new son, but that almost doesn’t matter because I believe he would eventually have presented the child to Cecilia. He could not raise a child alone, he could not have kept Jasmine around to help nurse or keep the baby safe when at any moment a person he could not buy off could find both Jasmine and the baby.

All along he knew he was going to dispose of Jasmine, keep the baby and lure his wife back home. He just had to bide his time. He was distant with his wife on the phone but he didn’t fear her coming home because he wanted to keep Jasmine. He didn’t want her to come home and have a visceral reaction to finding a pregnant head and turning him in. Once the baby was real, he knew Cecilia, a care-giver, a grieving mother, a symbol who brought together all the positive characteristics of the other women in this book with few of the negative, would embrace the baby as her own and they would have a new chance at life.

Cecilia, who is broken by the death of her child, willing to engage in the euphemism to a point but not beyond the chance to raise a child stolen from a specimen, a healer by profession, unimpressed by eating or owning FGP, is Marcos’ ideal woman. And she is rewarded in the world whose rules he helped write.

This is a bleakly honest novel. Miserable and awful. I recommend it if you can stomach it.


Some related media:


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Lapvona by Otessa Moshfegh



Raw, 2016

Bone Tomahawk, 2015

We Are What We Are, 2013


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