Culture can kill

‘Die Lady Die,’ features a character immersed in pop culture and removed from reality

Keri Carlson

A centimeter-thick layer of foundation covers the actress’ skin, lipstick makes her lips a shiny red and a padded bra enhances her curves. She reads a script in Spanish that copies plotlines from American soap operas, which were stolen from British novelist Jane Austen.

In a living room, a preteen observes. The girl mimics how the actress walks, tilts her head and wraps strands of hair around her finger. The girl repeats the actress’ lines, storing the words in her brain for later use.

Esperanza Hoberal is this girl. In her world, reality just imitates fiction. And fiction imitates other fictions.

In Alejandro López’s first novel, “Die Lady Die” (“La Asesina de Lady Di” is the Spanish title), he creates characters so immersed in pop culture that their actions and feelings do not seem realistic.

Though López’s novel takes place in Argentina, nationality plays a small role within the bubble of mass media he creates. “Die Lady Die” has universal appeal to anyone who grew up surrounded by pop culture. López shows how art and mass media have become a shadow hovering over all aspects of life.

Esperanza is a difficult character. She is untrustworthy, and most of all, she is crazy. This insanity comes from her inability to separate her life from the Ricky Martin albums she listens to and the soap operas she watches. She even admits a preference for artificial flowers.

From brief encounters with Ricky Martin, Esperanza becomes obsessed with having his baby. Esperanza constantly applies makeup to make her nose look smaller and frets over which skirts make her look skinnier. The ridiculous habits and ridiculous plot work because they make her character tragic.

The reader does not connect to Esperanza because of her delusions. But sympathy for her develops because she cannot escape the fantasy pop culture has created. Near the end, though Esperanza’s tale becomes more absurd, you can’t help but wonder how much we have in common with Esperanza. We may not cling to false notions of obtaining Ricky Martin’s sperm, but we have our own inescapable fictions.

Esperanza’s layers of makeup turn clownish, and instead of hiding the truth, the excessiveness only reveals the falseness.

Similarly, by taking pop’s ideology to an extreme, López transcends the culture he critiques.