Reading Resolution: “The Iliac Crest” by Cristina Rivera Garza

1. A book written in North America: The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza

List Progress: 18/30

I wish I liked this book more than I do. I come away from Cristina Rivera Garza’s Mexican novel La Cresta de Ilión (or The Iliac Crest in English) with a strong sense that I didn’t really get it. A lot of things happened and I could follow the actual events that took place, but there was such abstraction at play, and so much grounding in and commentary on the Mexican literary world, that I know I am missing a great deal of the value here. Maybe if I revisited this novel later with more context, it would mean more to me, but as is, it falls fairly flat.

The novel follows an unnamed man who works in a seaside hospital for the terminally ill. He is interrupted one stormy night by the appearance of two women at his front door: an ex-lover who he refers to as The Betrayed and a young woman claiming to be the Mexican writer Amparo Dávila. I am not familiar with Amparo Dávila’s work, but this seems to be equivalent of Shirley Jackson showing up at your house: a feminist writer renowned for tales of insanity. This would absolutely be my first step in gaining more context for The Iliac Crest: reading something by Dávila (who was alive when the book was published in 2002, but quite elderly; she passed in 2020 at age 92).

But even beyond the specific reference, so much of the book seems to be dealing in symbolic rather than literal events, which has never been my cup of tea in novels. Amparo Dávila is one of the few characters referred to by name, with others being titles like The Betrayed, The False One, The Magpies and The Director. A good deal of the story involves highly scrutinized, contested, but ambiguous borders: between male and female, life and death, illness and health, truth and lies. Rivera Garza has been open that her time growing up right on the Mexican-US border has influenced her work and The Iliac Crest a great deal, so the parallels are clear. But they do not hit me in an emotional place, as a white woman raised in the northern US.

I don’t think The Iliac Crest is a bad book, but it’s not one for me. My best friend is a big William Faulkner fan (an author I have little patience for), so I will be recommending this one to her. I might revisit it in the future, with a little more background knowledge, but for now I am content to move on.

Would I Recommend It: On the condition that you are a serious fan of either symbolic, ambiguous storytelling or Mexican literary history.

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