Review: Monstrilio - Gerardo Sámano Córdova
Genre: Speculative horror Published: Zando Projects, March 2023 My Rating: 3/5 stars
"He wasn’t Monstrilio anymore, but he wasn’t Santiago either. Santiago was dead. There was solace in keeping his memory unchanged. He was a place to visit, like a book reread.”
Frankenstein in Baghdad meets Samanta Schweblin in this unsettling speculative horror novel by debut Mexican author Sámano Córdova.
Driven by the maddening grief over losing her eleven-year-old son, a mother cuts out a piece of his lung and keeps it in a jar. Inspired by a strange folktale and the desire to keep a piece of her son alive with her, she feeds and nurtures the lung until it grows into a little sentient creature she names Monstrilio. As this little monster grows and transforms, and begins to shape the lives of the people around it, Monstrilio kicks up questions of love, loss and the darker side of both of those things.
Monstrilio was a story in two parts for me. It starts off as a deeply powerful narrative about a mothers desperate grief over the loss of her child. This first half of the novel was absolutely brilliant to me, and everything I’d hoped the novel would offer based on the synopsis. We see the fallout of Santiago’s death reflecting onto the people closest to him; his parents Magos and Joseph, their best friend Lena and uncle Luke, all coping in different (often times clashing) ways, and changing as a result. It’s a raw and unflinching depiction of a grieving family unit, but a beautifully executed one, and I loved the part the monstrous little Monstrilio played in the metaphor here.
We witness Monstrilio (or M, as he comes to call himself) grow and transform throughout the story, passing more and more for human as he ages. It’s at about the halfway mark, where M becomes a teenager, that the story switches gears.
Monstrilio transforms from a destructive little grief-creature, into a queer teen, exploring his sexual identity and the “hunger” he feels deep inside him. This includes quite a few instances of exploring kinks (with ánd without consent from partners). Personally, I was a little caught of guard by this, as nothing about the synopsis or previous content of the book had prepared me for this.
In essence, my mixed feelings about this book boil down to the mismatch between these two parts. I feel like both narratives work well. The tropes of the grief-monster ánd the queer-monster have both been explored before, and I happen to love both of them. Monstrilio just demonstrated that having them mashed together in this way, created a feeling of mismatch for me. It felt like the author was mixing their metaphors, therefore losing the strength of both of them along the way.
It likely boils down to personal taste; I wanted to read the story of the grieving parents and the grief-monster. I wanted to read the story of the boy feeling like a monster for his desires and inability to meet his parents’ expectations for him. I just didn’t quite feel like the two were linked seamlessly enough in Monstrilio.
Many thanks to Zando and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Find this book here on Goodreads.