Gerardo Samano Cordova's 'Monstrilio'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday April 4, 2023
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author Gerardo Samano Cordova
author Gerardo Samano Cordova

Grief for the death of a child manifests in some horrific ways in queer author Gerardo Samano Cordova's smashing debut, "Monstrilio."

For horror fiction fans, this book is a slow-burning monster story incrementally creeping up on the unsuspecting reader. For general fiction fans, Cordova's inaugural ordeal is a creative study on the process of mourning and the lengths people will extend themselves in order to preserve a loved one's spirit, presence, and essence.

The distraught characters at the center of this unique narrative are Magos and Joseph, an upstate New York married couple with one son, Santiago, who was born with a solitary underdeveloped lung and a dire life expectancy. When the boy, who manages to survive eleven years, collapses in his mother's arms and dies, the family is immediately bruised and irreparably broken.

In Magos' voice, Joseph's reaction is more internal than her own; he can't let go: "Her husband is not dead, not sleeping, simply slack and raggy," she observes. "She folds him. First, she folds his fingers into his palms, prying them from their son's pajamas."

In order to continue to love her son, however, Magos decides she must make every effort to revive him both mentally and physically. This is an immensely selfish sentiment, but so is grief, essentially. The act of mourning a loved one is an act of adorning respect and remembrance for that person, but also primarily to console and coddle the mourner for the state of their aliveness.

Magos, vulnerable to folk medicine and superstition, becomes desperate to restore her son and resorts to slicing him open and removing a small piece of his lifeless lung. In a jelly jar, she keeps the sample nearby after leaving her husband and moving back to her childhood home in Mexico City.

There, her mother's housekeeper tells her if she feeds the "lump", it would grow. She feeds it broth, the broth is absorbed somehow; then the jar is found shattered on the floor, and something has bitten her in the dark and then becomes attached to the family dog's hindquarters.

As it becomes obvious her son's lung has regenerated, it's also clear that it's become a small creature, hungry, impulsive, childlike; initially rat-like, then growing more animalistic with body hair, sharp claws, fangs, a hinged jaw, and unusual arm-tail limb structures. She names the monster-creature "M" for Monstrilio.

The book plays out in four dramatic, unforgettable overtures, told through the perspectives of Magos, her closest confidante and young surgeon Lena, husband Joseph, and finally, "M" himself. Magos is desperate to continue growing and nurturing M as much as she is excited to finally realize a lifelong career aspiration as a stage actress, and she becomes enabled by the clinical talents of unethical physician Lena.

Joseph, meanwhile, has relocated to Manhattan post-divorce, where he has come out and embraced a gay relationship with Peter, who has recently proposed marriage.

While reluctant to reveal his former life and heterosexual marriage, he is even more anxious about introducing M to Peter, as M has grown into a doppelganger of Santiago as well as a stealthily feral, increasingly uncontrollable, ravenous young man on the cusp of adolescence.

The book concludes with a shocking first-person perspective of M himself, viscerally gnawing through his Earthbound existence, ingesting neighbors, having random sex, hiding a growing new stump of flesh, anticipating his father's wedding, smoking cigarettes ("very human of me"), and discovering the bliss of emancipation.

Queer themes and more

Suffused with queer themes of identity and belonging, and underscored with Mexican/North American mysticism, this masterful novel is as curious and fascinating as the author who imagined it.

Cordova is interested in what makes monsters so monstrous, and this is derived from his own bodily consciousness. His personal physical limitations obviously and greatly informed the novel's theme. Through his own published essays scattered throughout a variety of notable media outlets, the author is strikingly candid about his struggles with mild osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a disease that makes his bones brittle.

By "mild," Cordova admits he only broke his legs seven times while growing up. His dental history, however, is a bit more harrowing. Along with OI, Cordova also contends with dentinogenesis imperfecta, which makes his teeth translucent blue and, sadly, also brittle, which has resulted in him experiencing just about every imaginable dental procedure possible.

Cordova is now in his early 40s and still remains frightened, annoyed, and in awe of his own body. Readers will, in kind, find themselves in awe over this debut which bends the imagination and expands traditional notions of monsters and mayhem and the capacity for love to transcend and infuse both.

'Monstrilio' by Gerardo Samano Cordova; Zando Projects, $27

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