Culture & Conversation

Slapstick Adventure and Sharp Allegory

For two weeks a filthy shadow of a man has been living in a decrepit yellow Chevrolet, parked at a San Salvador housing project.  All the neighbours are disgusted and uneasy with his presence but Eduardo Sosa, unemployed and curious, inserts himself in the man’s day and badgers a story from him: dismissed as an industrial accountant, his secretary/mistress murdered by the henchmen of her narcotics-agent husband, confronted by life with a resentful wife and daughter, Jacinto Bustillo has fled in his car to a life dedicated to “mere survival.” 

The two men wander together through the dark edges of the city, until Jacinto stabs a man to death with a broken rum bottle.  Eduardo’s response, described with psychopathic detachment, is to kill Jacinto with a pocket knife and return to the Chevrolet where he occupies both the car and its owner’s identity.  And with the four talkative and deadly snakes who also occupy the Chevrolet, he begins an accidental rampage of murderous revenge against all those who had contributed to the destruction of Don Jacinto.  By the end of a day they have strewn the city, its supermarkets, gas stations, and suburbs with bodies and destruction and plunged the police, the press, and the government into chaos and panic.

The tale is told in four parts – Eduardo’s own narrative bracketing two shifts of perspective: that of the pressured police detective investigating the rash of snake attacks and of the journalist following the story – and hurtles along its twisted track like a train full of nitroglycerine without brakes and a driver asleep at the controls.  There is horror and craziness everywhere but in Moya’s voice – as cool, precise and detached as an instruction in fence-sitting.  This deadpan delivery, splendidly comic in itself, both underscores the horrific violence of the novel and intensifies its black hilarity.

Dance With Snakes is a slapstick action adventure and a sharp allegory.  Its targets include the paranoia of political regimes, inclined to view any sort of upheaval as part of a destabilization plot. It examines the political imperatives of police investigation, wherein government officials superimpose their own agendas upon the character of crime, dismissing the instincts of experienced investigators in favour of lines of inquiry more supportive of their own stance.  The novel deals with the capacity of the media to shift the focus of news or indeed to insert itself into the story in such a way as to influence, alter, or even create events.  It touches upon the ease with which a criminal is able to manipulate the media and, through it, the public’s perception of his acts. And it illustrates the ability of communities to convince themselves, or be convinced, of just about anything.

The beauty of this book, as with great works of political and social satire in all languages, is that while its messages are by no means obscure, they are injected almost surreptitiously into the bloodstream of the reader: we may well imagine that these realizations are our own, having been presented them so deftly during the course of a story that is on its surface crazed, exhilarating, grotesque, relentless and hilarious fun.

Neil MacRae is a poet and musician from the Maritimes who has recently, finally, found his home in Hinchinbrooke, Quebec.

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