In Guatemala, the impact of Comrades (as it is titled in English) reached beyond the realm of the political, readying the literary landscape for a sea change. The novel is structured around four friends and one lover—Boozer, Skinny Dog, Rat, the Lad, and Tatiana—whose lives are irrevocably altered by the civil war. Skinny Dog, for example, defects from la guerrilla to live a miserable exile in Mexico, while the Lad remains faithful to the movement and pays the ultimate price, though not before the reader is given a harrowing, hallucinatory account of his torture by the military. But instead of tiling these stories together into a neat mosaic, as might seem natural, Flores opts for fragmentation, tossing each subsequent chapter into a time and place that rarely bears a direct relation on the one before it. It’s as though the reader is discouraged from fitting the pieces together in favor of surrendering to the act of shattering. In adopting such an approach, Comrades broke with conventional modes of storytelling and ushered in the Nueva Novela Guatemalteca, the New Guatemalan Novel, an experimentalism grown out of circumstances particular to the country but with outside antecedents.
Showalter has produced an admirable first attempt at filling that gap with a book that lucidly guides the reader through 350 years of literary history. Defining women’s writing in terms of its historical context, she writes that “the female tradition in American literature is not the result of biology, anatomy, or psychology. It comes from women’s relation to the literary marketplace, and from literary influence rather than sexual difference.” She succeeds in balancing attention to historical context and biography with a focus on the writing itself, showing how women’s writing emerged from and responded to the particular circumstances of each writer’s life, as well as making an argument about its aesthetic value and contribution to American literary history.