‘Fungus’ by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from Spanish by JT Lichtenstein

During the short-story-a-day challenge, I also found myself drawn for the first time to an incredible Mexican writer, Guadalupe Nettel. I was seduced by the five short stories in her collection, Natural Histories (translated by JT Lichtenstein). One of the stories that stands out in my memory is ‘Fungus’. Perhaps because it deals with a particularly unsettling topic for a short story. It begins: “When I was a little girl, my mother had a fungus on one of her toenails…” We go on to discover that the protagonist has an incurable fungus of her own, caught from a lover, which she cultivates compulsively, as a way to maintain a connection with a failed love affair. “Parasites – I understand this now – we are unsatisfied beings by nature. Neither the nourishment nor the attention we receive will ever be enough. The secrecy that ensures our survival often frustrates us.” I’ve since read Nettel’s work in Granta, and she has a new novel (her fourth) out in August 2022, called Still Born (translated by Rosalind Harvey), which deals with themes of maternal ambivalence.

First published in Natural Histories, Seven Stories Press, 2013

‘War in the Trash Cans’ by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by J.T. Lichtenstein

I’ve been a biology professor at the Universidad de Valle de México for over ten years. I specialize in insects.”

This unassuming beginning leads to some truly unexpected developments, as the narrator reminisces about the time she spent living in her aunt and uncle’s house, following her parents’ divorce. A cockroach infestation, and the (decidedly shocking, potentially nauseating) way the family deals with it, is not something I am going to forget anytime soon. Is there a reverse Kafkaesque transformation of sorts in this story, in terms of what happens to the narrator? Go ahead and read it – I dare you!
From Natural Histories: Stories, Seven Stories Press, 2014. Available to read online as a preview in Google Books here