‘Talpa’ by Juan Rulfo

Talpa by Juan Rulfo, 1953

The magic trick:

Repeating the plot details of a death over and over, so as to highlighting the resulting anguish and remorse

R is for Rulfo.

“Talpa” is unique in the SSMT catalogue in that it gives away its plot on the first page.

Why would it do that? How could the story carry on with any suspense?

Well, to answer the second question first: it doesn’t. There really isn’t any suspense.

But to answer the first question second: what it sacrifices in suspense and plot twists, it gains tenfold in mood.

The story repeats its resolution over and over, the narrator seemingly trying to find some kind of solace or rationalization somewhere in the retelling. By doing so, the story becomes, not about the death we learn of on the first page but, about the mental anguish that death causes.

And that’s quite a trick on Rulfo’s part.

The selection:

Natalia threw herself into her mother’s arms, crying on and on with a quiet sobbing. She’d bottled it up for many days, until we got back to Zenzontla today and she saw her mother and began feeling like she needed consolation.

But during those days when we had so many difficult things to do – when we had to bury Tanilo in a grave at Talpa without anyone to help us, when she and I, just the two of us alone, joined forces and began to dig the grave, pulling our the clods of earth with our hands, hurrying to hide Tanilo in the grave so he wouldn’t keep scaring people with his smell so full of death – then she didn’t cry.

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