Obscene Bird of Night

Dali’s “Birth of a New Man” (1943) might have been the “imbunche” Donoso had in mind.

I wanted Jose Donoso’s Obscene Bird of Night to be magical realism, not magical surrealism as a friend suggested, or stream of altered consciousness as I suggested, or peyote prose, which neither of us thought to suggest, but might explain everything. I wanted a Chilean version of Haruki Murakami or Mikhail Bulgakov, but that’s not what I got. Not at all. Sad cat is sad.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt that I invite you to imagine as a performance piece. You’re drinking pineapple mojitos at a below-street-level bar when the sleepy beatnik at the microphone flicks an ash from his filterless cigarette, cues the bongo, and begins …

You reject my mouth, which isn’t foul, and I force your fingers to feel my organ, you grab it, you squeeze it as only a piece of potent meat can be squeezed and you sink your nails into it and with a mad jerk you pull it out by its roots, nerves, arteries, veins, testicles, tissues, my body being drained of its blood in torrents that splash you; look at your bloodstained hands, look at the way the blood runs down your legs, forming the pool you stand in as you scream, hysterical, pale, upset, your eyes closed, you don’t want to see the blood that’s drenching you because you don’t understand, you wouldn’t reject me now if I drew closer, because you’ve taken away my dangerous instrument, leaving an unhealable wound between my legs, I don’t scream, I’m obliterated by the shadows, you scream, call, summon, spellbound in the pool of blood, asking for help, and the lightless glass overshadows you while the old women arrive on the scene, what’s wrong, what can be the matter with this girl that she’s screaming so much and doesn’t recognize us, and she collapses in a pool of blood. She mutters: “It’s a lie.”

Which brings us to my Goodreads overview …

A 438-page acid trip. Highly recursive poetry-style prose, constantly shifting POV, timeline and setting. Narrated by the “imbunche” Humberto Peñaloza, deformed by servitude and class envy, a deaf mute who hears all, tells all, depilated, de-evolving, highly educated and feckless, bound and swaddled, dying inside the burlap womb-tomb, reborn bastard child of the virgin whore, worshiped and humiliated by the hags he’ll carry up to heaven as Saint Ines, who isn’t a saint, but a witch, the same witch whose bed he sought the night he stole his master’s potency, planting the monster seed inside his master’s wife, because witnesses are powerful, but also flammable, and a tin can falls over in the wind.