Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores
Friday, October 4, 2019 at 6:34AM
TChris in Fernando A. Flores, Science Fiction

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD x FSG Originals on May 14, 2019

Tears of the Trufflepig is more surrealistic than most of the novels I enjoy, but it is rooted in the harsh realities of our national condition. The novel is set in a time and place that is in many ways very much like the world we know. The differences caution the reader to understand that the North America envisioned in the novel is the North America the next generation might inherit.

A world food shortage has killed a fifth of the Earth’s population. Not only did the United States build a border wall, but a second border wall was erected by Mexico, and the US is talking about building a third. Border Protectors roam around between the walls to deter illegal crossings. Armed Americans make a sport of killing intruders who are trapped in the shooting gallery formed by the walls. The US is threatening a new law that will send Border Protectors into Mexico to stop the problem at its source. None of this has done anything to deter unlawful immigration.

Drugs have been legalized in the western world, putting an end to drug cartels. Looking for new sources of illicit revenue, an enterprising criminal kidnapped some scientists who developed a process of “filtering” that allowed them to “grow” new animals, beginning with the ivory-billed parrot, providing a revenue stream from the black-market sale of ivory. Through the widespread kidnapping of scientists and science students, the criminal also bred silver moon foxes for their fur and extinct animals for collectors. Shrunken heads are also in high demand, which isn’t good for indigenous people who contribute their heads. The criminal who started it all is dead, but the business continues, cartels having replaced drug dealing with filtering.

Against that background we meet Esteban Bellacosa, who acquires equipment in Texas for a construction company in Mexico. Bellacosa brought merchandise across the border before the walls went up, working with a boy who is now a priest and another boy who is now dead. He regards modern Mexicans and Americans as “stale imitations of the cultures they were meant to be a part of.” Bellacosa has hired a detective in Mexico to find his brother Oswaldo, who has been kidnapped and is being held in the south for reasons unknown to Bellacosa.

A reporter named Paco Herbert hires Bellacosa to join him for a swanky, underground dinner. Attending the dinner alone would be suspicious; Bellacosa’s job is to be camouflage. Guests remain anonymous, but they are required to eat whatever extinct animals they are served. There they see a filtered animal with a beak and hooves and crocodile skin known as a Trufflepig.

Herbert is obsessed with the Aranaña, a forgotten people who, according to legend, could cross effortlessly between reality and the world of dreams. The Aranaña were supposedly closed off from civilization for centuries before their sudden reappearance as refugees. Legend has it that Trufflepigs were part of Aranaña culture, “accessible to them only in a dream state.” But the Trufflepig marked an era that, like most of the Aranaña, is now in the past. Perhaps the Aranaña have something in common with all the people who, like Oswaldo, have been disappeared.

Bellacosa becomes involved in a bizarre plot to which no summary could do justice. Bellacosa eventually steals a Trufflepig for reasons he can’t explain, and is surprised when he becomes attached to the gentle docility of the undemanding creature.

The story is filled with symbols of change, from the Trufflepig and the Aranaña to Tarot cards that represent the transition from past to future. The story’s surrealistic nature might be explained by the fact that Bellacosa sometimes describes events that he perceives after taking peyote. But the reader who looks beyond the story’s strangeness will find recognizable characters and events. Frequent references to music, film, food, and literature help ground the book in a familiar reality. While the political landscape is a natural outgrowth of America’s ascending nationalism, Bellacosa would be mourning the past and wondering about the future in any life. He has lost his wife and daughter, and (in a sense) his brother.

The story works because Bellacosa is something of an Everyman. He lives a lonely life, substituting harmless chats with waitresses for social interaction. He is caught up in circumstances he can’t control and doesn’t really understand. He is a powerless figure who, in his own small way, tucks a Trufflepig under his arm and takes a stand that will probably never be noticed. The novel seems to suggest that if more of us were like Bellacosa and if fewer of us championed walls and supported the corrupt desire for wealth, we could all share a more welcoming world. That's a good message, and Tears of the Trufflepig delivers it through an entertaining, albeit strange, story.

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