Caribbean / Dominican Republic / Novel / Review

Review: Tentacle (La Mucama de Omicunlé) by Rita Indiana

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I’d been wanting to read Tentacle for a while, sucked in by the hype and attractive hot-pink cover of Achy Obejas’ English-language And Other Stories translation. Unfortunately, this slender novel from Dominican multi-hyphenate Rita Indiana (her second to be published in English) was punchy and promising for about a third of the 130-pages before it imploded beneath the weight of its own ambitious vision.

Set in a post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo where technology is a bodily function and “three disasters had finished off practically every living under the sea”, Tentacle presents a terrifying image of the future, albeit one that is disconcertingly refracted and replayed in both the past and present. Queerness ripples through the pages of Tentacle like waves on the open ocean and time is a fluid entity at best, as the narrative alternates between Acilde, a former teenage sex worker-turned-maid-turned-accidental lynchpin of a Santería prophecy and trans man, and Argenis, a coke-snorting artist-turned-phoneline psychic with violently homophobic, misogynistic tendencies.

I was all in for Acilde’s energetic (if unflinching) opening pages, which feature rape, sex work and the unrepentant rounding-up and murder of Haitian ‘illegals’. What the fuck happened here?, I wondered. (No, Tentacle is not for the faint-hearted; the first word I noted down when reading was brutal.) But the early momentum and intrigue of a promising plot which hinges on Santería prophecy and Yoruba ritual ebbed away early, as Indiana began to incorporate further concerns about colonialism, climate change, queer politics and the Caribbean art scene. While I appreciate the importance and intersectionality of these concerns, it just felt like a bit too much for one short novel to tackle effectively.

Acilde’s plotline, once brisk and vibrant, slowed and shattered into multiple bodies and timelines which made for a sometimes confusing and frustrating read. Factor in Argenis’ chapters, which appear separate from the central story for much of the novel and also feature fractured narratives split between his present day and a band of 17th-century buccaneers, and Tentacle was soon weighed down by a complex web of its own making.

Even so, Indiana’s evocation of a post-apocalyptic Dominican Republic is effectively chilling and even the most subtle, innocuous-seeming phrases gave me pause: “that future of acid rains and epidemics in which prison was preferable to the outside”, “from when they still used to print on paper”, “when the sea…wasn’t just contaminated chocolate.” Similarly, her observations on “fucking cultural tourists” and the self-serving hypocrisy of politicians who “handed plaques to those who…had survived the disdain of the very same institutions that now offered them paper glory” are effective in their accuracy. Not to mention the fact that her plot hinges on a marginalised Dominican trans man, a significant enough statement about the role of the oppressed in its own right.

Indiana’s wide-ranging imagination, perspicacity and way with words shouldn’t be underestimated and I certainly want to read more of what she has to say. However, while it felt fresh and bold from the onset, Tentacle ultimately failed to live up to its opening page promises, becoming utterly disorientating towards the end. Instead of riding the wave of Indiana’s vision for the full 130-pages, I found myself sucked under the surf quite quickly and never really resurfaced.

Buy | And Other Stories Press

Buy La mucama de Omicunlé 

About Rita Indiana

Rita Indiana (Santo Domingo, 1977) is a multi-hyphenate — writer, editor, musician – from the Dominican Republic.

Other Books by Rita Indiana: Papi (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Made in Saturn (And Other Stories, 2020)

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