Uruguayan author Fernanda Trías’ novel Mugre Rosa was published in 2020 so was one of the many dystopian novels that came out in that year that seemed to predict the global response to Covid. Now translated into English by Heather Cleary as Pink Slime, and coming at the tail end of the pandemic, it is easier to consider the novel, as Trías herself has said, as a warning not so much of pandemic but of impending environmental collapse. Particularly given the product that gives the book its name is not, as might be assumed, something malevolent but rather a cheap generic meat product.
An unnamed narrator lives in an unnamed city that is falling apart. All the fish have died, the birds have fled, a pink algae clogs the rivers and much of the time the city is swathed in fog. Worse still a red wind can blow through that brings with it a deadly and painful death for those caught outside. The wealthy have fled inland, leaving the poorer citizens to fend for themselves. The narrator still tries to make a life for herself, she is trying to care for her mother who lives in a distant suburb, her ex-husband Max is in hospital being one of the few who have survived the red wind, and she earns money looking after a boy called Mauro for his wealthy parents. Mauro has a condition that makes him insatiably hungry all the time and liable to eat anything that comes his way. The narrator has a dream of earning enough money to flee the city and cross the border into Brazil but all of her remaining connections hold her in place.
Pink Slime is a tough novel to read. The world that Trías creates starts off badly and only gets worse over time. There are definitely echoes of the response to Covid – lockdowns, masks, overburdened medical facilities, food shortages. But there is also a strong strain of environmental collapse – polluted rivers, lack of rain and a literally poisonous atmosphere. In this respect there are definite echoes of some other more impressionistic environmental dystopias including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Gold Fame Citrus by Clare Vaye Watkins and Hwe-Young Pyun’s City of Ash and Red.
But Pink Slime is as much about the main character and her struggles as it is about the disaster she is managing. It is about the connections she has with her mother and ex-husband and with the boy that she is paid to care for. It is this character and her struggles, at the centre of the chaos, that sets Pink Slime apart from other dystopias but also links it to some of the titles listed above.
There are plenty of cautionary tales out there that are driven by a real fear of environmental collapse and the social collapse that will inevitably follow. Readers who want to stay oblivious to the dangers of this potential future should probably stay away from Pink Slime. For others it will be another wake up call and reminder that the world we live in is fragile but the connections that we make in it are not.