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Claudia seeks the attention of her melancholic mother, also named Claudia, who occupies her days reading gossip magazines and tending to the family's teeming collection of house plants in their Cali, Colombia, apartment. The mother is particularly obsessed with the deaths of famous women such as actor Natalie Wood, who died in 1981, and tells the narrator they took their own lives to escape from domineering men. The older Claudia married the narrator's father, Jorge, at 19 when he was 42, and though he's away working most of the time, the younger Claudia reveres him. The older Claudia then begins a secret love affair with her 30-year-old brother in law, which is exposed during a family trip to a seashore city, and Jorge threatens to kick Claudia out. Overhearing this, the narrator changes her view of Jorge, likening him to a monster. Later, the older Claudia's best friend, Gloria dies by suicide, and Claudia's comments on Gloria, who suffered from depression, make the narrator worried about her mother's safety and well-being.


Visceral images propel the story ("Mama laughed so wide, you could see the roof of her mouth, hollow and grooved like an underfed torso"), as the narrator grows increasingly concerned about what's going to happen next.


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