‘The heiresses’, the ghosts of madness | lamarea.com

“Madness is like that, something that is conceptualized as a private evil when, in reality, it is always shared,” reflects Erica, as she walks through the town where she has spent part of her childhood and to which she has just returned with her sister. Lis and her cousins, the sisters Olivia and Nora, upon learning of the death of their grandmother. After a long time, the four meet again in that old multi-story house where her grandmother has decided to end her life. He was older, yes, but his death was not natural. He committed suicide, but why?

That’s what Olivia wonders, between feelings of guilt. She is the family doctor. She had signed her grandmother’s prescription pad. In search of answers, she goes through the different rooms, opening cupboards and drawers, in which she finds blister packs of anxiolytics, antidepressants and various pills. But, between those drawers, between those rooms and their walls, something more is hidden than the question about the voluntary death of the grandmother: the fear of a shared madness, of an excessive predisposition to the consumption of anxiolytics and other drugslegal or not, often mixed with alcohol.

“Something dark runs through this genetic inheritance they share, something irrevocable that makes her suspect herself, why not me? Or perhaps yes?”, asks Oliva again. “She lives with an alcoholic, an anorexic and a psychopath under the roof of an octogenarian who cut her wrists.” Is she the only one to escape this family curse?

This is the starting point of the heiressesthe last novel by Aixa de la CruzThat after Change of idea, a hybrid text between the autobiographical story and the essay, immerses itself in pure fiction to address issues that, in part, were already in his previous work, such as drug use or precariousness. On this occasion, however, the Basque writer chooses to create four characters, four young women who, in one way or another, are trapped in different forms of consumption and, in this way, reflect both on the reasons for said consumption and on its incitement from different rooms.

Nora, a self-employed worker, has gone from using drugs for fun in her university years to being trapped in the abuse of other drugs to keep up with the pace of work, to never stop producing. Nora perfectly represents the self-exploitation that Byung-Chul Han talks about, a self-exploitation that, furthermore, does not allow her to escape from the precariousness in which she lives installed.

For her part, Lis, after being hospitalized for a psychotic outbreak, also lives tied to a constant medication that, theoretically, protects her from having other outbreaks, but that, at the same time, annuls it. Lis is and is not. Erica doesn’t entirely escape these “bad habits” either, although she dreams of turning her grandmother’s old house into a place for spiritual retreats. While for Erica her grandmother’s house offers her the possibility of seeking new ways of life far from the logic of consumption and production in the city, less frenetic and impersonal, for Lis that house is the place of all evil. That’s where the family curse lies. Something similar thinks Nora, who, however, perhaps more cynically, sees the house as the ideal space to be used by her drug dealer as a drug store. “A body in detoxification is an economic crisis, a large family in which, suddenly, a salary is missing,” Nora points out.

De la Cruz explores how the line that separates legal drugs from illegal ones – here we talk about drugs and medicines, however, in English drugs does not distinguish – it blurs when consumption becomes an imperative: consumption is encouraged – and this is well known in the United States – to be productive, to be fit, to cover up any form of disorder. Because mental illnesses are a taboo and ‘madness’ is a term as broad as it is derogatory in which to put anyone who suffers from an ailment. Medications become as necessary as their administration is abusive. Its use is induced in the name of order and the market – terms that have ended up being synonymous in neoliberal logic – because, as Nora points out, someone who detoxifies means “economic crisis”, above all for those pharmaceutical companies that create addictions and, at the same time, they produce pills to combat them.

De la Cruz’s four characters, each with their own story, bear witness to the contradictions of a society that punishes those who take drugs (illegally) and encourages those who do so (legally). The four cousins ​​are, in turn, the reflection of the fear of the impossibility of escaping from filiation, of escaping from the family and its inheritance. They cannot stop being heiresses of that house that, with gothic airs, hides family ghosts who are there and who fear being discovered.

Like Blye, the protagonist of Another twistthe four cousins ​​arrive at the house of their grandmother, whose voluntary death hides its reason for being in those ghosts that, paradoxically, are not so different from those that haunt the young women, who survive thanks to those same blisters with which the old woman took her own life.

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the heiresses

Aixa of the Cross

Alfaguara, 2022

‘The heiresses’, the ghosts of madness | lamarea.com