Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blood of Palomar

Blood of Palomar

Yesterday, I reviewed Jaime's first masterpiece, The Death of Speedy, and today I am writing about the first solo Gilbert book in the series. As good as this book is I do not really count it as his first masterpiece because of the punch of his first "Heartbreak Soup" story. Still, there are a million serial killer stories out there, but "Human Diastrophism" stands out from the rest because of its small town context, human characters, and political overtones.

The book starts with three short stories and they are remarkable for their brevity, soul, and emotional impact. The drawings of young Pipo's pout and Vicente's sly smile from the first tale "Sugar -n- Spikes" are brilliant and striking, and they contribute to the excellent pacing and stagecraft. This great sense of the theatrical carries over into the main story, a huge saga of political and romantic intrigue as well as murder.

The story captures the zeitgeist of late Cold War paranoia, where people feared atomic conflagration. Tonantzin is probably most symbolic of this feeling, at first the comely barbosa vendor who inspires many men to lust becomes suddenly politicized, speaking out against the overbearing influence of the US and USSR superpowers, even in their small corner of the world. She becomes a protester and advocate, alienating some and firing up others.

The townsfolk are concerned with ridding themselves of bands of marauding monkeys who are scouring their land and creating havoc. The brutality of slaughtering these beasts is juxtaposed by the actions of a monster in their midst, someone who is killing random townsfolk. Additionally, the sense of paranoia that seizes the people in town is palpable.

As someone is killing random people in town, there is a witness who is paralyzed from speaking, though he does try to communicate his knowledge through art. This Cassandra-like figure adds a mythic, philosophical aspect to the proceedings. His interludes comment as much on the power and function of art as much as how people respond to incredible and horrific situations.

Perhaps this story is some statement about the price of advancement or progress. That is not for me to say definitively, but what matters is that there are so many images, symbols, and situations here ripe with meaning that makes many such analyses possible.

I will not ruin the ending, but I will say that it is one of the most powerful fictional conclusions I have experienced, shocking, horrible, and sweetly sorrowful.

My Rating: A heart-rending, impressive classic. Gilbert's ability to manage a huge cast is exceptional.

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