“With pitch-black comedy, Ornamental, nimbly translated by Lizzie Davis, channels the ways that egomaniacs in science and art―in any field―rise to the top, up the pyramid of capitalism. . . . [T]he rhythm of Cárdenas’s writing compels and reassures, as if driven by the very humanity the lab has helped suppress.” —New York Times
“[A] work of subtlety and restraint. . . . What makes Ornamental so deeply affecting, however, is not that its pages come together to form a beautiful work of exterior art—though it does—but its ability to cast unease on our interior worlds. . . . Brilliantly executed and cleverly translated, Ornamental leaves us with a fresh understanding of the creation of art and the nature of meaning-making.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“In spare and economical prose, Cárdenas sketches a highly stratified world, where drugs link high society and neighborhoods that are ‘a single crush of old houses and ruins’. . . . the overall effect offers both thrills and chills.” —Publishers Weekly
A scientist recruits volunteers for the trial of a new recreational drug that exclusively affects women. Among them is “number 4,” who becomes emotionally involved with first the scientist, then his wife, a well-known visual artist in the midst of a creative crisis. The scientist is oblivious to the atrocities his new drug will bring to the city; his wife is oblivious to the superfluousness of the objects she committed her life to exhibiting in galleries and museums. Number 4’s presence pierces the couple’s complacency, gradually undoing the many certainties they’ve accumulated in their lives of ease.