Short Story Review – Javier González Cárdenas – Jagged Rage (trans. Christina Miller)

We have:

  • A general who likes to sexually torture very young women
  • A hint that there may be some kind of zombie-like plague
  • Unpoliced, wild areas where violence runs free
  • “White Coats” who are perhaps experimenting on people and bringing back the dead

So, it is that kind of story.

Rachstad, the general, is aggressively unpleasant –

Almost four weeks had already passed since he hit and raped some little girls, on an afternoon when his troops finished off the survivors of the Hochstock genocide. Without these ultra-violent sessions, his body suffered the lack of stampedes of adrenaline and the maximum excitement.

The language is somewhat detached throughout, describing the violence in a way that doesn’t relish it, or condone it, or even enjoy it.  It is simply stated, and there.  This is perhaps more distasteful than a text celebrating gore and pain.

The general talks to a few people about the situation – we learn a little about it, but it’s window dressing, really.  What we need to know is that Rachstad is a thoroughly horrible person existing in a world where horror roams and runs free.  Is this an excuse for who he is?  Perhaps.

There was a lot of talk about dead people brought back to life by designer drugs. News also ran about biogenetic methods of resuscitation, temporary and permanent. Those testimonies were passing from top to bottom, spreading like the Coxsackie virus, among the pedestrians of Asintia. After the worldwide onslaught of genocide, the cadavers multiplied, piling up in such a way that with them, barriers and barricades could be built to continue the armed struggle. Before this abundance of lifeless bodies, communal logic pointed towards recycling and the reutilization of the cadavers. Therefore, postmortem experiments reached astronomical levels, intensifying with the establishment of Monthly Quota of Escape Law.

The first part of this story reads as though it is a recital of the actions in a video game, which led me to believe, initially, that this was in fact the purpose of the story.  When put into a close third-person perspective, most video games are in fact catastrophes of moral collapse on the part of the player.  To do a tenth of what is done in a AAA game is to be the greatest mass murderer who ever lived.  But the story veers in its last half to become bloody horror gore-porn piling violence upon violence upon violence.  It’s shocking, and brutal, and absolutely effective.

Rachstad approaches what we consider to be a brothel.  Men nod at one another, speak in coded language, speak with muted tones.  They say everything without coming anywhere near what they are truly saying.  You could record every word and, without context, would have no idea that they are discussing Rachstad’s purchase of some time with a young – very young – girl with whom he can do anything.  Sex is not off-limits.  Pain is not off-limits.  It’s ugly, and then everything changes, and the story descends further into a vindictive, mad, fleshy hell of stomach acid and chewing teeth and grinding ligament.

If it seems as though I don’t like this story, well – I don’t.  It’s not for me.  I’ve never really enjoyed reading about violence, and if it exists it must do so in service to something.  It’s similar to sex in literature or car races in movies: They don’t do much, but boy they go on for a long time.  I feel my eyes roll as soon penises are taken out of pants and heaving bosoms begin to, well, heave.  In the case of Jagged Rage, the violence is a precursor to more violence, and hanging over all of that, sexual violence.  It leads to nowhere but more of itself.  The last few paragraphs are astonishing in the sheer detail of dismemberment and cannibalism, blood and viscera and pain.  It works, it is a rotten crescendo, the language is muscular and intense, and focused, and unclean.

I can’t like everything, and don’t need to.  You’ll notice above that I have never questioned Javier González Cárdenas’ ability as a writer.  He is a clearly a man of talent, with a sophisticated grasp of sentence structure and nuance.  He is able to plot well, too, and the ending is exactly as satisfactory as it should be.  I can see what he is doing, and he has, to my reading, achieved the purpose of the piece quite well.  But it’s not for me.  Some people drink tea, some coffee.  Some people scrunch, some fold.  Some people like sweets, others savories.

Of course and yes – the easy answer is that I am not supposed to like the story.  It’s not trying to be my friend or win my heart.  Nor should it.  This is not a story for liking, but it can be a story for admiring.  González Cárdenas leads us down one horrible path only to switch it for a fouler one, and by the end of the story we feel polluted, damaged, brought down, low.

If I had to make a criticism detached from my feelings, then I would say that the broader hints of the story – the White Coats, the ravaged landscape, the strange technology, the physical/sexual/technological connection between vampire (?) and axolotl – would actually be better served in a longer story.  I could see this working extremely well as a feature length movie in which the horror constantly mounts, and lips are wettened with blood, and wounds are licked.  I wouldn’t see it, but I think it might work.

Jagged Rage is a short story by Mexican writer Javier González Cárdenas, and was translated by Christina Miller.  You can read the story online at Latin American Literature Today.

Author Javier González Cárdenas
Title Jagged Rage
Translator Christina Miller
Nationality Mexican
Publisher Latin American Literature Today

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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