Lucía Puenzo’s novel The Fish Child (trans. David William Foster) is something of a minor miracle in that it is a novel narrated by a dog (a fact wisely avoided in any descriptions I had seen) that avoids becoming precious—instead the voice is humorous and even a bit raunchy and brash. Despite addressing situations tangential to her other work (sexuality and gender are both key concerns), the tone here is a long way from either the seething anger of her Granta story or the quieter tension of XXY. The story follows the love affair between a young well-to-do young Argentine woman, Lala, and her family’s Paraguayan maid, Guayi, and tracks the aftermath of their attempt to flee the family to live together in Paraguay. The plan, of course, works out less well than hoped—Lala gets out of the country but Guayi ends up in prison for a crime she hasn’t committed. As the story goes on, it develops a strange hybrid of melodrama and action-adventure film.
None of this works anywhere near as well as the other two Puenzo works mentioned above. What she achieves with the voice of the dog is laudable for avoiding some obvious pitfalls, but the choice still has its problems. One thing she gets from it is an outside perspective on events where only one (or even no) person is present but a dog can be, and this is sometimes played against moments the dog cannot see or hear the action: some of the events leading up to Lala leaving the house, and later events at a police station. Nonetheless, Puenzo doesn’t make much of these blank spots; the first of them serves to add some plot suspense, but the latter serves no clear function. Worse, the dog seems to have an all-too-magical ability to see and describe characters’ (mostly Lala’s) thoughts—something that could be used to question the narration’s reliability but isn’t in this case, all the insights ringing true to the story’s tone and direction.
I am curious to see the film version Puenzo has directed of this novel. In some ways the plot feels better suited to film as a medium, and if the dog’s-eye-view is dropped in the process, that might be for the best.