Samanta Schweblin, "Little Eyes"

Mt. Pleasant Library

Samanta Schweblin, "Little Eyes"

Review of Little Eyes, Samanta Schweblin
Book of the Month, Dec. 2020
Written by Las Comadres Book Club member, Gustavo L.

In her timely, provocative and eerie composite novel, Little Eyes, Samanta Schweblin poignantly warns how technology too easily satiates our desire to escape boredom and connect with others. As if flipping through postcards, Schweblin spreads her commentary across short stories across different continents, climates and characters, ranging from inquisitive children to suspicious retirees. Indeed, the inclusive nature of Little Eyes underscores the universality of its theme and our social needs as humans.

The common bond across the vignettes is the intriguing kentuki, a Furby-like plush toy available in multiple animal versions that links two human users, a controller, known as the dweller, and caregiver, or keeper. Charmingly enough, the users’ initial interaction is akin to seeing a human interact with a new pet.  We smile as users fumble through communicating with one another, given the purposely rudimentary constraints of the kentuki vessel, only to marvel at how a common language of communication is finally achieved. You find yourself rooting for the dweller and keeper as the kentuki acts merely as a benign avatar of friendship. However artificial and distant it may seem, the relationship that results still is victorious over the common enemy of loneliness that we all face. Marvin, a young Guatemalan boy entrapped in the boredom of forced study and a monotonous hot climate, is a dweller that represents the explorer in all of us. He desperately wants to see snow and explore a world that seems attainable only through the kentuki technology. Further south we meet Emilia, a Peruvian retiree who reluctantly becomes a dweller, as she laments her son’s seemingly pacifying gift of a kentuki. What she cannot get from her own son, she attains from Eva, her German kentuki keeper of their shared toy. Eva is patient and kind, allowing Emilia the time needed to bridge their generational gap and establish the relationship Emilia’s son should, yet does not, provide. Coincidentally, Emilia assumes her natural maternal role and tries to shoo away Eva’s brutish love interest in an all-too-relatable scene. In perhaps the novel’s most interesting episode, we meet thirty-something Alina. She represents how most of us would probably approach a kentuki, if it existed. Driven by boredom, Alina purchases a kentuki as a keeper, but soon establishes boundaries. Alina is too clever to be subject to the pitfalls of this possibly intrusive and ultimately empty relationship. She is keenly aware that her privacy may be violated at any moment.

Some dwellers and keepers remain anonymous throughout. Throughout most of the vignettes, we are only introduced to the true intentions of only one of the users in each pair. We come to learn that even if we have the best of intentions and project goodwill upon those we befriend, one can never be certain of how the other may reciprocate.  This expectation becomes ever more tenuous as technology provides filters for anonymity and supplants real-time face-to-face interaction of traditional relationships. Schweblin presents the sobering thought that, in extreme cases, some have corrupted the kentuki-world to promote or expose sex trafficking and pedophilia. We return to a seemingly levelheaded Alina that showcases the most shocking criminal of all, the enemy within. Alina projects anger, confusion and hatred onto a plush toy that is an outlet for her own frustration with her standing in this world, and in the relationships with those she is supposed to trust. Does an inanimate object deserve such treatment? What about the person dwelling inside this plush toy? In a vacuum, it seems like the welfare of a kentuki shouldn’t matter but as readers, we become invested, and Schweblin artfully sets the stage for introspection. Schweblin masterfully poses the question, what would happen if everyone could witness us at or worst? In this age of ever-vigilant recordings, and our willingness to forsake our own privacy, this parallel universe is not far-fetched.

Little Eyes is spooky in a way that makes you get back in line for Schweblin’s literary haunted house of warped mirrors. Each short story presents another layer of the kentuki world as the author masterfully plays whack-a-mole with your what-ifs. What is the moral responsibility of a businessman? Should human avatars be afforded freedom and rights? Should true romance be allowed to flourish regardless of one’s physical realities? With each question, the reader falls deeper under Schweblin’s spell, only to realize how similar her kentuki world is to our own.
    Book cover of white background with bright green eyes across the page