Independent Foreign Fiction Prize–winner and Granta “Best Young Spanish- Language Novelist” Santiago Roncagliolo returns with his acclaimed translator Edith Grossman with a raucous phone sex novella and three dark, entrancing stories.
Told entirely in dialog, "Hi, This Is Conchita" is a virtuosic comic novella about men pushed past their breaking point—and the women who drive them crazy. Peru’s heir to the incisive social literature of Mario Vargas Llosa weaves a complex tale of an office worker hiring a hitman to kill his mistress, a man leaving feverish messages on his beloved’s answering machine, and a phone sex worker whose client is literally crazy about her.
The three stories that follow reveal Roncagliolo’s masterful range. “Despoiler” is the claustrophobic tale of a Carnival in Barcelona that brings one middle-aged woman face-to-face to her childhood demons. “Butterflies Fastened with Pins” is the perversely comic account of a man whose friends keep killing themselves. And “The Passenger Beside You” is a surreal story narrated by a woman with a gaping bullet wound right through her heart.
Peruvian author Roncagliolo's collection contains a dialogue-only novella and three short stories, none of which are especially winning. In "Despoiler," Carmen is a single woman on the verge of turning 40 and is resigned to her solitary life. When she meets a man while out celebrating her birthday with her co-workers, she's confronted with new emotions. "Butterflies Fastened with Pins" finds a man "getting used to" his friends taking their own lives. Death, and its impact on the passengers of a bus, is also the theme of the very short "The Passenger Beside You." "Conchita" is both more accomplished but also more frustrating than the stories. It is made up entirely of phone conversations between Reginaldo God nez and various people, including Conchita, a phone-sex operator with a sadomasochistic streak. God nez also speaks repeatedly to a customer service center and to Esmerelda, a woman with whom he was once romantically involved. There's a lot to like and laugh at here, especially riffs on the awfulness of Meg Ryan movies, but the humor is surrounded by so much verbiage that bright moments are few and far between.