Manic journalist Erasmo Aragón is a Salvadoran exile in Mexico City finally ready go home “to jumpstart my life.” If only his liver didn’t ache, his companion didn’t cheat, and his all-encompassing paranoia didn’t get the better of him at every hung-over turn. When anxiety-addicted Erasmo is deprived of his favorite doctor, he turns to semi-retired Don Chente, a holistically-inclined teller of anecdotes and riddles who eventually tempts him into hypnosis, which, because Erasmo has no idea what he’s said in the sessions, triggers panic attacks and intimations of conspiracy — each one sure to unfold because the sexually repressed, vodka tonic-swigging Erasmo is mentally motoring “at a million miles a minute.”
Salvadoran Moya is a talisman when it comes to making lurid fun of those who endured his country’s bloody 1980s, with its military death squads and family feud-like ideological duplicity. Erasmo dreams of returning home, yes, but he’s already made up both past and future in his zany head, extrapolating from his “condition,” which is the malady of borrowed trauma and alcohol-fueled hysteria. “I suffered from a horrifying lack of control over my emotions,” says Erasmo, a “seriously unhinged” master of mental contortions who at one point taps the services of a putative assassin named Mr. Rabbit.
This almost festive terror and its Freudian percolations come to roost in a cruelly hilarious novel that makes drama-king Erasmo’s “morbid dynamic of self-reproach” into a literary weapon. Moya demonstrates a skill his Latin counterparts César Aira and Roberto Bolaño (in his shorter works) have shown time and again: transforming a seemingly miniature character study into a widely affecting parable.