One of the most exhilarating aspects of contemporary literary fiction is its
capacity to illuminate cultural netherworlds. Seething with an undercurrent of passion and darkness in Bajo’s allusive Panopticon, the daily landscape is filled with watchful eyes. In this world, constant surveillance fragments into kaleidoscopic parts
- vivid, murky, jagged, all consecutively plummeting, changing and whirling.
Like a messenger, Aaron Klinsman, a journalist for a Southern California border newspaper, is assigned to investigate an abandoned hotel room in San Ysidro. Aaron is at once captured by the strange synchronicity of
Room Nine with its squares of black tape plastered everywhere and mirrors draped in towels. A double bed holds a wrinkled pattern left by a napping body. Swirling and intricate,
judging by the shape of the hips the pattern appears to be from a woman.
With the bright lights from the Tijuana Hills shining in his eyes, Aaron returns to the room with Rita Valdez, his colleague at the
Times. Rita photographs the tape and the covered mirrors; Aaron is sure the room is a crime scene, “but for a crime that never happened." Someone was found and then vanished at the same time. The bed, the shirts, and the towel-draped mirrors resemble strange, mercurial death shrouds.
Oscar, Aaron and Rita’s co-worker, is skeptical, yet Aaron knows he has exposed himself to something and
is trying hard to keep it all real in a landscape awash in light and dark. Back at the
Times office, Oscar clicks the computer screens to the camera-capture utility, capturing surroundings from different vantage points. His actions begin an infinite telescoping of images as the camera lenses with their tiny filaments become like “nerves taking in and sending out.” In this story of obsession, abandoned hopes and unfinished opportunities, Bajo’s chapters vividly unfurl, punctured with fractured paranoia and real danger.
Amid the Tijuana sloughs, the borderlands between the sea and the land, a vivid dreamscape unfolds of Aaron's past life, where his brothers and sisters raced through the tomato fields of his family’s ranch. The youngest of nine, Aaron and his siblings lived together in an almost impossible reality. The pale worry of dreams of his youth still haunt Aaron. He especially remembers the time he was bitten by a large rattlesnake,
and the presence of strange Aracely Montiel, a girl who befriended Aaron in seventh grade and who had also suffered from a snakebite.
Cryptic and challenging, Aaron and Rita’s affair frames this dense and difficult novel. A passionate chrysalis of love, their coupling plays out
with satin sheets swirling between their skin, their intimacies connected by a mirror-like world of lenses and apertures. In the end, Aaron finds himself trapped in his past
as his present bleeds into shadow. Imagery and color abound, the air itself an invisible feed where evil eyes are everywhere, spider-like and here for the taking.