Our final entry to The Novel of Now: Micro-Reviews covers Tears of the Truffle-Pig by Fernando A. Flores. The novel was published in May of 2019 by FSG and was longlisted for The Center of Fiction First Novel Prize. Read on below to see what Brandon’s class thought of this first novel.
In the Spring quarter of 2019, I taught a class called The Novel of Now in our Creative Writing undergraduate major at the University of California, Riverside. It was a course aimed at graduating seniors, preparing them for the transition from the role of students into, hopefully, the writing world.
As part of this class, we read nine just-published books, each of which had been released within a couple weeks of our discussion (most of them the week before we convened in class). These were books that caught our attention because of buzz built before publication, but no books were chosen for the lessons I expected them to teach; instead, the class itself, and each student individually, would decide what value these books presented (or failed to present). All we had to go on were the blurbs on the back, the book jacket copy, the text itself, and our own opinions. The goal was to let the students start to build their own canon, to begin to define their own aesthetic. At least from my perspective, the course went incredibly well—we had complicated, nuanced discussions, and I watched each student work on the process of creating their own definition of story.
After the quarter was finished, I emailed the class and asked them to write micro-reviews of any books about which they felt they had something valuable to say. After all, they had built well-formulated opinions, and they had tested those opinions in lengthy class discussions. Ten students took me up on that email (as a point of clarification that matters to no one but me, most likely: a few of them were not officially in the class, but were simply reading along). Some reviewed every book, some just a few. We will present them over the next eight weeks, with some light editing for clarity, grammar, and spoilers.
Tears of the Truffle-Pig by Fernando A. Flores
Quick Synopsis: An absurdist, comical, horrifying take on a world much like our own where everything is falling apart more quickly every day: After drugs are legalized, cartels turn to reanimating long-extinct animals, as well as hybridizing mythological creatures.
This book was my favorite, despite it being a bit longer than the others. This book was the most imaginative which would explain why it was longer. It had to do a lot more world building which was done pretty well since it was done through the main character’s perspective. He would be going down the street for his usual breakfast or something similar and be describing what is going on around him. With the other books, they were set in places that didn’t really need to build as much scenery because with just a bit of information, it was a bit clearer of what they were trying to set up.
One thing that I am now realizing about the main character Bellacosa: The plot would just push him into these things, but he never seemed to personally make choices until the end. He never chose to do anything, it just happened to him. The end where he takes the truffle-pig out into the desert and carries it out to what I am assuming is his death,he is basically traumatized by everything and just goes insane. He is the only character that I felt bad for. He was a beautiful thing (that is the literal translation of his name in Spanish).
There is a of Spanish spread throughout the book and one thing that I was taught is that when you code switch in writing, it isn’t necessary to add translations. A lot of the Spanish was just swearing anyways which just added humor. A few of my Latinx friends and I agreed that Spanish curse words sound harsher and funnier than English curse words.
In this parallel world where contrabands have become legalized, the main character, Esteban Bellacosa, and a journalist, Francisco Paco, are looking to find the secrets behind the truffle pigs and who the ring leader is. Going into this book, I really thought that it would be wild, though it really turned out not being so. Rather, it has some surreal elements to it, but otherwise, it’s not a wholly exciting book. It attempts to convey ideas about corruption, and poverty. If anything, this story tries to make a legend about the truffle-pigs and the Olmec heads, and that seemed like a cool idea, seeing as how absurd it make up a legend about truffle-pigs—like why truffle-pigs?
If I’m being honest, I was quite confused on what the plot was supposed to be. It seemed to be going all over the place—learning about the truffle-pig, finding Oswaldo, and figuring out the idea of the world that Flores attempted to make. I think his ideas are great, but nothing seems to bind them together or ground the readers on why these legends matter. There are absurd things, but otherwise, the story itself is pretty normal.
The novel Tears of the Truffle-Pig, written by Fernando A. Flores, is set in southern Texas in an alternate reality of the present; there was no indication that this was set in the future. The key difference in this reality is that there was a new science created that “filters” animals and brings them back to life for a small amount of time for the pleasure of the wealthy in the world. Creating these animals and selling them to make exotic meals is like the new underground drug rings. It has been attempted to be concealed by the law but the attempt has not yet been successful. Mass graves begin to pop up containing bodies of filtered animals or headless student scientists. Bellacosa is the main character of this piece and is introduced to the reader as he searches for a piece of machinery for one of his clients.
The reader’s emotions are beautifully toyed with through diction choice and imagery. Several times throughout the novel, readers will think they have a grasp on the situation, but really don’t. Speaking of imagery, one thing that Flores did incredibly well in this novel is describe the scene to the reader so that they knew exactly what was happening. One example of this is the dinner scene when the men are seeing a truffle-pig in real life. The reader gets a clear image of the beak, its skin color, and the way the animal acts, but more importantly the reader gets to see how the little girl reacts to the animal, unphased. Flores is smart in his choice to deliberately use specific characters to get particular points or ideas across. It was purposeful to make the person handling the truffle-pig a girl, and a young one at that. It could be argued that it shows how this illegal activity has sparked the interest of young people, both those in the lower classes and not, to show how this isn’t something that would die with this generation. No, it was going to last. Also, Ximena and the waitress at this dinner were both described by their movements which is very interesting because it makes them seem elusive, the reader knows how they move which pushes the reader toward their movements and not the women themselves.
Fernando Flores is a great young writer who seems to be full of ideas and stances to take in his novels. His language is simple yet very beautiful and impactful to the reader. It is clear the author knows how to bend the English language to do what he wants. This novel brings up an ever-prevalent topic in today’s world, the border between America and Mexico and what happens there. However, it is given to the reader in an alternate reality version of this world, with a third border wall soon to be erected. It blends the social issues of life along the border, for example when Bellacosa was going through and witnessed an old man getting hassled, and culture. Tribes of Indians are discussed and in particular the Aranaña Indians who disappeared in the novel. Acts like this can be found in American history textbooks today such as the stories of relocated American Indians and the Trail of Tears. He also does this by interweaving Spanish throughout the entire piece, always in italics. The Spanish was easy to read and understand given that an individual had just a small practice in the Spanish language. It immersed the reader in the culture and the area of the world this story takes place.
There was some point in our class where we discussed the average traditional method of story telling. The main idea of a western story is usually a goal trying to be achieved or a lesson being learned. However, this method doesn’t always apply, especially in stories outside of the US. Fernando A. Flores’ Tears of the Truffle-Pig is a good example, of a story just being a story. The story takes place in a parallel universe in Southern Texas, a world where drugs are now legal and black-marketers now make money by selling filtered animals and indigenous artifacts. The book follows a man named Esteban Bellacosa, and it is through him that the reader is dragged into the depths of this world and its underworld. If you’re looking for a story with a clear plot, motive, and closing solution, this book may not be for you. If you’re looking for one strangely surreal experience, this will do.
I believe that this novel is very setting-based. This is a world that went through a food shortage, a portion of the population is dead, drugs are legal, and filtered animals exist and are being sold on the black market to the rich. Through the first half of the novel the author wants to set things up for the reader to understand. Bellacosa lives near the border between South Texas and Mexico, where apparently there is a high crime rate. After drugs were legalized and an old kingpin was murdered, the gang underworld is going through a power struggle. I also found it odd yet disturbing how certain things happen in this world: for example, the shrunken heads. The idea of that plus the filtering of extinct animals to eat them is so disturbing yet interesting at the same time. I have to say this was one thing I really enjoyed about this novel. Our class talked about the use of surrealism here and how Flores really created this surreal environment that our characters exist in. I really wish we had got the chance to see more of this surreal yet believable setting the author invented.
Collected and Edited by Brandon Williams