Las chanchas: Stranger than Reality
Just after Andy, the first narrator of Las chanchas (there are three), takes the rubbish out, two girls, Lara and Mara, who believe they are being persecuted, show up at his house and ask him to hide them. Andy agrees to keep them safe (or is it he who is actually kidnapping them?) in a room he has at the back of his house. He does it, he explains to them, under the condition that they stay there, out of sight of Romina, his wife. Gordini, Andy’s friend and Romina’s ex-boyfriend, soon joins them. In the meantime the entire neighbourhood is out searching for the girls in marches organized by Romina, and attended by the girls themselves, by Andy and by Gordini.
In Las chanchas there is no mention whatsoever of the dictatorship or even any reference to Argentina. Yet this is still a story of kidnappings, marches for Truth and Justice, victims, perpetrators, witnesses and abducted children. But these familiar topics (violence, memory politics and dysfunctional families), characters (kidnappers, the disappeared and human rights organizations) and places (the Conurbano Bonaerense [Greater Buenos Aires]) in Bruzzone’s literature are defamiliarized in this novel, allowing the readers to look at them with new eyes, as if for the first time.
The defamiliarized gaze was already present in both 76 and in Los topos. “The place looked familiar,” says one of the characters of “El orden de todas las cosas,” “but Rita showed it to me as if I had never seen it before.”7 Moreover, in Los topos, the narrator says at one point that he needed to “take distance in order to get closer, or to get closer but taking a different path.”8 He is thinking about going to the southern city of Bariloche to look for Maira, his lost brother/lover, but the phrase might also echo what Bruzzone does, in literary terms, with topics that have been depicted so many times in Argentine literature that it is necessary to find new ways to speak about them.
Finally there is another episode in Los topos that might also refer, metaphorically, to Bruzzone’s rearrangement of the pieces of the past, its images, symbols and characters, in order to refresh the narratives of the dictatorship and find new hidden truths. A homeless man finds the narrator searching for food in the rubbish bin and tells him that looking for remains in the garbage is like looking for pieces of oneself in a mirror: “there is nothing new; it is you but just all broken.”9 The narrator, however, disagrees: “something new always comes up from all those pieces, as if as well as discovering the broken pieces one gives them a new meaning.”10
In Las chanchas, Bruzzone takes a step further, distancing the novel even more from the real, betraying the reader’s expectation from the beginning, erasing any traces of historical and geographical references and rarifying everything. At one point Gordini says to Andy that before deciding what to do with the girls they need to “forget them, forget about everything and reach a state of mental serenity.”11 Similarly in Las chanchas, Bruzzone “forgets” the dictatorship, the disappeared and the concentration camps to—paradoxically—remember them differently.
In this respect, Bruzzone seems to follow one of Jorge Luis Borges’ more important lessons about how to avoid “local colour” when writing about familiar topics and places in literature. In “El escritor argen- tino y la tradicion” (The Argentine Writer and Tradition) (1942), Borges confessed that for many years he tried to capture the flavour of Buenos Aires, and the essence of its barrios, and to do so he included many local words such as milonga and cuchilleros, until the day he wrote “La muerte y la brujula” (Death and the Compass) (1944), one of his most popular stories, and created a nightmarish atmosphere where the reader can find elements taken from Buenos Aires but deformed. He thought of Paseo Colon and called it Rue de Toulon, he thought of Adrogue and called it Triste-le-Roy and so on. Thus by distancing himself from local colour he was able to find the true essence of Buenos Aires.12
Likewise in Las chanchas, Bruzzone thinks of the conurbano and calls it Mars, thinks of the poor in Argentina and calls them Martians, thinks of the Madres’ iconic white scarfs and replaces them with hockey sticks. The result is a new and refreshing way of narrating Argentine violence in fiction, provoking in the reader a sensation similar to what Andy feels at one point in the story: “it is extraordinary to live for so long in the same place and suddenly start seeing new things. It is a sign of hope.”13
The drawing that Mara once saw on a visit to her dentist and that she reproduces several times in the novel, disrupting the linearity of the writing, thus becomes symbolic of Bruzzone’s experimentation with representation and reality, referent and signifier (Fig. 7.2). At first the drawing seems to be a simple, minimalist landscape of low hills and some trees. The picture is entitled Trees next to the river, but the river cannot be seen anywhere; it has disappeared. “One has to imagine it,” says Mara at one point.14 She then adds that compared with the other pictures in the room, this one is quite insipid. However, it is also inviting and it provokes in the viewer the desire to be in that landscape, just as in children’s fables when someone enters another world through a mirror or through, precisely, a picture, and everything becomes familiar but strange and uncanny at the same time.
Mara then reproduces the picture but without the trees, to see, in vain, if she can make the river appear. Then, a third time, she decides only to draw the trees, because she realized that what was preventing her from seeing the river was not the trees but the hills. However, this picture does not work either: “I can’t find the optimal image” for bringing the river into view, she concludes frustrated.15
What do all these drawings that are not just described but also reproduced in the book mean? Lucia De Leone has rightly read the impossibility of finding the “optimal image,” one that would allow Mara to see the river, as another reference to the zone of indecision where all of the
Fig. 7.2 Drawing reproduced in Felix Bruzzone’s Las chanchas, 2014
characters live in Bruzzone’s autofictions, as if they were anesthetized or stoned.16 Moreover, for De Leone, Las chanchas is a novel about reproduction, as illustrated by the presence of rabbits, pregnancies, lost children and characters that have similar names (e.g. Lara and Mara, a name that in turn echoes Maira in Los topos). The number of times the drawing has been reproduced by Mara would also point to that leitmotif.
In my view, these sequences also allude to the existence of multiple versions of reality and the difficulty of grasping one single truth of the events in question. In this vein the novel offers not one but three different narrators: Andy, Mara and Romina, all with their own explanations of what happened following the arrival of the girls at Andy’s house. Andy is convinced that he is on Mars, Mara creates a childish version of the abduction and Romina pretends not to see or know anything about what is going on in her house. With so many versions of the story, as Mara says towards the end of Las chanchas, “one ends up not knowing the truth, not because one is stupid, naive, or inexperienced, but because one needs to build it up from pieces of little lies and it is impossible to know if one lie is worth more than another.”17
Furthermore, in Mara’s drawings the landscape is covered by fog, probably because it is dawn. In Las chanchas it is also always raining or foggy, a feature that not only points to the blurry perception of reality but also contributes to the milieu’s nightmarish atmosphere. Bruzzone’s characters are often aware that “things get weird,”18 as described by Andy at one point, as if everything were part of one of the many dreams that the characters have or of their delirious minds.
Indeed, if in the first section of the novel we, the readers, believe that the events are taking place on Mars, the next two “testimonies” (Mara’s and Romina’s) make no reference to Mars, suggesting that this idea is part of Andy’s delirious imagination. In fact, only a few pages into the novel, Andy has already warned us that “no one can see the Martians as I do.”19
Thus, in Las chanchas, Bruzzone introduces us to first-person witnesses and narrators even more unreliable than the ones that inhabit his previous fictions. In the stories of 76 the characters do not lie, or at least so they claim: “I was not going to invent any story, I do not lie” (“Lo que cabe en un vaso depapel”);20 “I do not lie, I don’t like it”21 (“El orden de todas las cosas”). In Los topos, conversely, the narrator confesses that he invents some stories but not others,22 and that it is possible that Maira has invented almost everything.23 But in Las chanchas, Andy states that his memories (of Lara) are all inventions,24 proving the extent to which the fantasies, exaggerations and lies of Bruzzone’s characters, and his universe of fictions and representations, have overtaken the “real” world, the universe of the factual and the referential.
Given these observations, it is not surprising that Andy practises karaoke (an imitation/simulation of real music) and that Gordini performs magic shows (the art of illusion). Moreover, Andy has more nightmares than any of Bruzzone’s characters, and Romina reads sci-fi stories of plots that are as delirious as anything that happens in Las chanchas.
It is precisely the choice of the science-fiction genre, rather than that of the thriller in Las chanchas, that allows Bruzzone to construct a novel that is more independent from those references but which still “speaks” about the legacies of the traumatic past. Rather than classics of the sci-fi genre by writers such as Ballard and even Bradbury, Las chanchas is more reminiscent of works by local writers, such as Daniel Guebel (El terrorista 1998) and Cesar Aira, and films such as Invasion (1969), scripted by Borges and Bioy Casares, all of which fuse key characteristics of science fiction with local elements. Moreover, Las chanchas forms part of the new trend of works by the post-dictatorship writers and artists studied in this book, including Lola Arias (Mi vida despues) and Pola Oloixarac (“Actividad paranormal en la ESMA”), whose rewritings of the self employ science- fictional imaginaries at the same time as evoking the dictatorship. These often-humorous narratives are also another form of ludic memories of the past, one inhabited by ghosts, haunted places and sinister characters, even if they turn out to be less frightening than parodic.