STARRED REVIEW
February 17, 2021

American Delirium

By Betina González, translated by Heather Cleary
Review by

Argentinian novelist Betina González’s English-language debut is a wild romp of aggressive deer, abandoned children and a cultish back-to-nature group of adults who have taken to the wilderness.

Share this Article:

Argentinian novelist Betina González’s English-language debut is a wild romp of aggressive deer, abandoned children and a cultish back-to-nature group of adults who have taken to the wilderness.

The story is told by three residents of an unnamed American city that’s barely survived some kind of economic or environmental apocalypse. Both Vik and his elderly co-worker, Beryl, are employees of the local natural history museum, though Beryl’s roots in the community date back to the 1970s, when she joined a commune of young people experimenting with mind-altering drugs. Beryl now leads her fellow senior citizens in an all-out armed war against the deer that have begun attacking people. (Note: There is some graphic animal cruelty here, so if you are sensitive to that, this is not your book.) 

At the same time, Vik, a chronically ill taxidermist from the (fictional) Caribbean island of Colonna, realizes that an intruder has broken into his home and is living in his closet. Meanwhile, Berenice, the daughter of the town florist, uncovers ties to the old commune after her mother disappears.

The storylines gradually come together over the search for a plant that originated in Colonna called albaria. It’s so potent that one dose creates life-altering hallucinations and a lifelong addiction.

The lively pace and absurdity of American Delirium could easily go off the rails, but González keeps a tight control over each of her characters even as they navigate their ever-stranger adventures. The novel is well served by translator Heather Cleary’s light touch, which allows for a certain amount of zaniness without sacrificing the plot or the well-defined characters.

In the author’s afterword, González explains that she drew inspiration from an international array of news stories, and it’s clear that some of the strangest elements in the novel are taken directly from these real-life events. Perhaps one person’s magic is another person’s realism after all.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

American Delirium

American Delirium

By Betina González
Holt
ISBN 9781250621283

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!