viernes, 24 de junio de 2011

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books, 2007)
by Junot Díaz
USA, 2007

For a novel that falls a mere one annoying pussy reference short of qualifying as a fucking metal album or something, I eventually warmed to Junot Díaz's geek bildungsroman about sad sack Dominican-American virgin Oscar "Wao" Cabral even though its moronic side tended to bug me at times.  People who enjoy South Park may appreciate its bicultural literary equivalent more than I did.  The thing is funny after all, and I often laughed out loud at its ruthless depiction of college life, the various potshots ("He was a true gangster, gully to the bone, lived the life all those phony rap acts can only rhyme about" [122]), the wacky footnotes, and the Machado de Assis style interactions with the reader ("A Note from Your Author," on page 284, begins as follows: "I know what Negroes are going to say.  Look, he's writing Suburban Tropical now.  A puta and she's not an underage snort-addicted mess?  Not believable.").  I also enjoyed its comically in your face treatment of the "ghetto nerd" immigrant experience, even though I think that some of the heavier flashbacks treating the trujillato in the DR were probably better evoked by Vargas Llosa in his distinctly non-funny The Feast of the Goat.  That being said, I ultimately walked away from my experience with this pop culture-obsessed dramedy housed within the worst cover art I've practically ever seen not entirely sure that this was a novel with soul so much as a slickly written attempt to masquerade as a novel with soul.  Am I thinking about these things too much?  Perhaps.  But Díaz doesn't help himself in this regard because, as effervescent as his use of language often is, he's just as often guilty of laying it on thick with a prefab creative writing instructor/über nerd cuteness that makes me doubt his intentions.  Worth reading, a diverting story to be sure, just far from a fave.  (

Junot Díaz

This was the Wolves' June book of the month as picked by Claire.  Please consider joining us during the last weekend in July for a group read of Orhan Pamuk's Snow, an E.L. Fay selection.

Other Opinions
Claire (kiss a cloud)
Emily (Evening All Afternoon)
Frances (Nonsuch Book)
Rise (in lieu of a field guide)
Sarah (what we have here is a failure to communicate)

lunes, 13 de junio de 2011

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman + Suspicion

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman + Suspicion [Der Richter und sein Henker and Der Verdacht] (The University of Chicago Press, 2006)
by Friedrich Dürrenmatt [translated from the German by Joel Agee]
Switzerland, 1950 & 1951

Can't remember where/how I first heard about the Swiss Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), but anonymous props to whoever it was who turned me on to the guy.  Whilst The Judge and His Hangman, about a serial killer who's conducted a lifelong game of cat and mouse with the now terminally ill Inspector Barlach, and Suspicion, about a Nazi doctor who's taken his sadistic delight in anesthesia-free surgery out of the concentration camps and into postwar private practice incognito, both contain over the top moments that will test your credulity, the two novellas are also absolutely feral examples of the crime genre--the twist here being that in addition to Ellroy-like pacing and cynicism a good 30 years before their time, you also get a probing examination of the nature of good vs. evil and man's inhumanity to man in both.  Not that God gets off the hook either--as one character bluntly remarks in the second work, "Jehovah was far away, preoccupied with other worlds, or maybe some theological problem was claiming his sublime intelligence, in any case his people were enthusiastically hounded to death, gassed or shot, depending on the mood of the SS, or on the weather: the east wind meant hangings, and the west wind meant now was the time to set dogs on Judah" (127).  Brutal.  (

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

jueves, 9 de junio de 2011

El mal de Montano

El mal de Montano (Anagrama, 2002)
por Enrique Vila-Matas
España, 2002

Musil parece haber adivinado lo que te estás preguntando.
--Resistentes  --te dice--, gente de letras y de catacumba.  Luchadores contra la destrucción de la literatura.  Me gustaría reunirlos en algún lugar y allí empezar a poner bombas mentales contra los falsos escritores, contra las granujas que controlan la industria cultural, contra los emisarios de la nada, contra los puercos.
(El mal de Montano, 258)

Dada la rara estructura pentagonal de El mal de Montano (una novela en la forma de un diario íntimo, un diccionario biográfico, un discurso sobre la teoría literaria, un viaje sentimental, y un ensayo humilde) y las conversaciones reales e imaginadas de escritores como Kafka, Musil, y Walser que tienen lugar a lo largo de la obra, apenas es de extrañar que el mal del título se explica como lo de estar enfermo de la literatura.  ¡Vila-Matas ve los muertos!  Por otra parte, sí es sorprendente que esta obra viva se parezca a una piñata dinamitada con toda la despreocupación de Benjamin Péret insultando a un cura católico (por supuesto, el narrador de Vila-Matas protagoniza como Péret y "los enemigos de la literatura" interpretan el papel del cura en este esquema mío).  Aunque es más ambiciosa y menos de calidad constante que ese triunfo de la antinovela Bartleby y compañía, El mal de Montano es una obra chistosamente obsesiva que está a su mejor cuando explora las intersecciones entre la ficción y la realidad, la literatura y la crítica literaria.  A veces los puntos culminantes vienen en citas jugosas memorables, como en este comentario por Paul Valéry en una entrada biográfica sobre el poeta: "La estupidez no es mi fuerte" (202).  En otros tiempos, son más extensos, como el capítulo donde una secuencia dedicada a un ensayo de Alan Pauls sobre el tema de la enfermedad en los diarios del siglo XX se traslada a esta meditación acerca del valor de la sinceridad en la literatura por Witold Gombrowicz:  "¿Se ha visto alguna vez un diario que fuera sincero?  El diario sincero es sin duda el diario más falaz, pues la franqueza no es de este mundo.  Y, a fin de cuentas, ¡la sinceridad, vaya una lata!  No es nada fascinante" (145).  Entre la abundante proliferación de nombres y obras citados a lo largo de la obra, uno de los momentos más interesantes llega cerca del final en una escena en cual Vila-Matas parece hablar a través de su alter ego literario con la fuerza de un aficionado del modernismo como Gabriel Josipovici: "Me gustan las novelas que no tienen final.  El lector que busca novelas acabadas  --decía Unamuno-- no merece ser mi lector, pues él mismo está ya acabado antes de haberme leído.  Y, en fin, me acuerdo de que Walter Benjamin decía que toda obra acabada es la máscara mortuoria de su intuición" (281-282).  La máscara mortuoria de su intuición, ¿me dices?  Obviamente, tendré que leerme alguna obra de Benjamin antes de (

Montano's Malady (New Directions, 2007)
by Enrique Vila-Matas [translated from the Spanish by Jonathan Dunne]
Spain, 2002

Musil seems to have guessed what you're wondering.
"Resistance," he says, "underground people of letters.  Fighters against the destruction of literature.  I'd like to gather them together and start planting mental bombs against false writers, against the rogues who control the culture industry, against the emissaries of nothingness, against the pigs."
(Montano's Malady [translated by Jonathan Dunne], 189)

Given the unusual pentagonal structure of Montano's Malady (a novel in the form of a journal intime, a biographical dictionary, a speech on literary theory, a sentimental journey-style travel diary, and the humble essay) and the real and imagined conversations of writers like Kafka, Musil, and Walser that take place within it, it's hardly surprising that the titular malady is defined as a species of "literature sickness."  Vila-Matas sees dead people!  On the other hand, what may be surprising to some is that this lively work resembles an anti-novel of a piñata blown to pieces with all the insouciance of Benjamin Péret insulting a priest (naturally, Vila-Matas' narrator stars as Péret and "the enemies of literature" play the part of the priest in this little formulation of mine).  While both more ambitious and more inconsistent than the anti-novelist's earlier triumph Bartleby & Co., Montano's Malady is a comically obsessive work which is at its neurotic best riffing on the intersections between fiction and reality, between literature and literary criticism.  Sometimes the highlights come in quick, memorable soundbites, as in the citation of a Paul Valéry quote ("Stupidity isn't my strong point") in the middle of a biographical entry on the poet (145).  At other times, they're more extended in nature, like the chapter in which a reference to an Alan Pauls essay on the theme of illness among 20th century diary writers leads to this reflection on the unimportance of sincerity by Witold Gombrowicz: "Has there ever been a diary that was sincere?  The sincere diary is without a doubt the most fallacious, because frankness is not of this world.  And also--sincerity, what a bore!  It isn't even faintly fascinating" (102).  Amid the vast proliferation of names and works cited throughout the course of the work, one of the highlight reel moments comes near the end in a sequence in which Vila-Matas himself seems to be speaking through his Josipovici-like literary alter ego: "I like novels that have no end.  The reader who seeks finished novels--Unamuno said--does not deserve to be my reader, since he himself is already finished before he's read me.  In short, I recall that Walter Benjamin maintains that every finished work is the death mask of its intuition" (207).  The death mask of its intuition, eh?  Obviously, I need to read me some Benjamin before (

Enrique Vila-Matas

PESSOA, Fernando (Lisboa, 1888-Lisboa, 1935).  Inventó un personaje de nombre Bernardo Soares y delegó en él la misión de escribir un diario.  Como dice Antonio Tabucchi, "Soares es un personaje de ficción que adopta la sutil ficción literaria de la autobiografía.  En esta autobiografía sin hechos, de un personaje inexistente, está la única gran obra narrativa que Pessoa nos dejó:  su novela" (182).

PESSOA, Fernando (Lisbon, 1888-1935) invented a character by the name of Bernardo Soares, to whom he delegated the mission of writing a diary.  As Antonio Tabucchi writes, "Soares is a fictional character who adopts the subtle literary fiction of autobiography.  In this autobiography without facts, of a nonexistent person, is the only great narrative work left to us by Pessoa: his novel" (130).

sábado, 4 de junio de 2011

Los adioses

Los adioses (Punto de Lectura, 2007)
por Juan Carlos Onetti
Argentina, 1954

Una novela breve magistral (escrita en los años bonaerenses del uruguayo Onetti), sin ninguna grasa estructuralmente, en cuyas 111 páginas se encuentran un relato devastador y una profunda meditación sobre la inexorabilidad del tiempo y del destino.  Ambientada en un pueblo de montaña adonde los tuberculosos van para curarse, Los adioses nos ofrece una visión de otras enfermedades--la soledad, la ausencia del amor, la voluntad para decepcionarse, la derrota--a lo largo de su esbozo de un ex jugador de basketball, ahora un enfermo, marcado por un fatalismo desafiante.  "No es que crea imposible curarse", dice el narrador, "sino que no cree en el valor, en la trascendencia de curarse" (12).  Al mismo tiempo que todo esto está pasando, el novelista inicia un sutilísimo juego del gato y del ratón con el lector cuando un malentendido acerca de las relaciones entre el enfermo y las dos mujeres en su vida parece reflejar simbólicamente la venalidad de la verdad entre todos los testigos del espectáculo (sólo un recordatorio: nosotros los lectores somos testigos también).  En resumen, una especie de tragedia rioplatense hermosamente narrada sin ningún sentimentalismo barato. (

Juan Carlos Onetti