Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans—though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.
Argentine writer Bazterrica's uneven English-language debut disturbs with a vision of human cruelty and moral flexibility. Bazterrica efficiently establishes the premise: an animal-borne virus has led to the mass slaughter of all livestock, forcing the hungry populace to look for protein elsewhere ("At a chilling speed the world was put back together and cannibalism was legitimized"). Marcos Tejo works for a processing plant that slaughters genetically modified humans, or "head," for consumption. Marcos is a dour character, emotionally hollow after the death of his son and working in a profession he despises to support his ailing father. After one of his clients gives him as a gift a "First Generation Pure" female captive-bred, non-GMO human livestock he begins to lust for her, though it's a capital crime to "enjoy" females meant for breeding. Bazterrica is best when clinically describing the mechanisms of the harvesting process, from breeding to killing to butchering. These entrancing scenes normalize the brutality with euphemisms, demonstrating the Orwellian potential of language to "cover up the world." The prose, though, can be overwrought at times notably during a sex scene taking place on a bloody butchering table but Bazterrica's purposely unappetizing conceit makes for a powerful allegory on the human consumption of animals. Still, the execution will leave a bad taste in the reader's mouth.