But what wouldn't be after Mr. Moya's amazing Senselessness? Reminiscent of Javier Marias' Voyage Along the Horizon in that both works showcase the early incarnations of the polished writers still to come, Mr. Moya's toughest competition here is himself. If, after these earlier novels, either one of these two men had stopped writing, it would have been a serious loss, though it's possible Marias' book may have had some small life of it's own. 'Dances with Snakes', on the other hand, would probably not - instead, it rides on the coattails of the much better 'Senselessness' in order to stave off obscurity.
Eduardo Sosa becomes attached to Jacinto Bustillo, a homeless man living in his car. After some unexpected events occurring while the two men go out for a drink, Eduardo assumes the place of Bustillo, not realizing that the homeless man had shared his vehicle with four deadly snakes. Slowly, the snakes accept Sosa as Bustillo's replacement, and whether it is all in Sosa's head or not, he begins to communicate with the reptiles. Together, they plan revenge on all the people who had brought Jacinto Bustillo to his degraded state in the first place. From there on, Sosa's coordinated snake attacks on population centers throughout the city incite panic all the way from street level to the highest members of the government.
Whether Mr. Moya was trying to exploit the style of Magical Realism, or whether the character of Sosa is unstable and simply hallucinating does not seem to make much difference. Neither does the question of whether there are any hidden subtexts or allegories within the text - it's very likely there are at least some - the point is that 'Dances with Snakes' suffers from a more elemental problem than these advanced issues. Although both 'Senselessness' and 'Snakes' are short enough to read in one sitting, there was a complexity of detail in the more mature work that is lacking here. 'Snakes' reads like a young novelist who is in such a rush to get his story on paper that the necessary crafting of characters falls by the wayside. Instead, Mr. Moya makes the choice to tell his story in four parts, from three different points of view, which only fragments the narrative further, and needlessly. Plus, as Sosa and his snakes move from one chaotic attack to another (culminating in one the oddest, silliest love scenes you will ever read in a 'conventional' novel), it seems as though humor was inspiration for the novel. How well that humor works for the individual reader will go a long way toward how well he enjoys the entire book. This reader found it strained.
It shouldn't be surprising that the earlier work is flawed - or at least not as accomplished - but based purely on the ingenious storytelling in 'Senselessness', I still look forward to reading The She-Devil in the Mirror (New Directions Paperbook) (written after 'Snakes' but before 'Senselessness'), and, of course, any new works by Mr. Moya. I would even go so far as to say that I look forward to trying Mr. Moya's earlier works also, as they become translated, since, if nothing else, 'Dances with Snakes' was certainly an unusual work.