I’ve been on a bit of a “plague kick” lately, having just read Mary Shelly’s The Last Man and watched 28 Days Later, and think, after reading The Rag Doll Plagues by Alejandro Morales that perhaps it’s time to take a break and read some lighter subject matter.
The Rag Doll Plagues is broken into three narratives that each resonate in both narrative voice and plot. The first story takes place in colonial Mexico, where a mysterious plague called “La Mona” turns thousands into what the chief colonial physician alternatively describes as “bags of pus,” “blood sausages,” or “the living dead.” Unfailingly lethal, La Mona is described as a “just” disease because it takes the lives of the poor, the rich, the indigenous as well as the Europeans (who overall tended to import diseases to the “New World” at and after Contact). The second narrative takes place in Orange County, CA in the 1980s during the initial AIDS outbreak. Narrating this tale of disease and the social forces which both structure its spread and containment is another doctor, Gregory, trying to suture the wounds of gangland violence and AIDS-doomed hemophiliac wounds of his wife, Sandra. The third tale takes place in a relatively dystopic twenty-second century Los Angeles-Mexico City industrial corridor of the “Triple Alliance” (think NAFTA or something like it fully merged Canada, the US, Mexico, and a spike of Chinese ex-patriots inhabiting all three nations). Gregory, the grandson of our last Gregory, is a doctor who finds that Mexican residents of Mexico City have somehow evolved or mutated to resist the “hyperbolically polluted” Mexico City and that simple blood transfusions using Mexican blood can cure the new myriad diseases caused by the pervasive industrial waste that has marked the twenty-first and second centuries as a time of “ecological disaster.” The race to commodify Mexican blood, which Gregory wryly notes is by no means a new pursuit, is on!
So… yes, this is a wild book full of blood, gore, and also love, humor, and social-political commentary. At the heart of each narrative is the story of widespread environmental injustice, as racist and profit-driven political systems construct terrible infrastructure which either directly brings about the plague in question or exacerbates its virulence. The scientific acumen of the doctor-narrators is challenged and exposed as but a limited tool against the monsters which perhaps can only be tamed with socially and environmentally equitable political structures. It is a gruesome and disconcerting novel that takes on the transhistorical sweep of a horrific dream you know, at some level, you already wake and sleep through today.
Rating: “The kind of infectious you want to spread around” — quote from the Christopher Guest film, A Mighty Wind.
Review Submitted by: Shane D. Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended