by Juan Carlos Onetti
El pozo [available in translation as The Pit], sometimes compared to Sartre's La nausée and Camus' L'Étranger but I'm not going to go to the existentially Frenchified there since I won't be talking about uplifting non-South Americans on the blog anymore, is probably the bleakest, most claustrophobic, most unsettling Onetti I've read to date. In any event, it would make an absolutely sensational gag gift for any of your magical realism-loving retrograde friends. Eladio Linacero, on the brink of turning 40 and somewhere between being just extremely anti-social and an utter nihilist, decides to set his life story down on paper one night because he's read somewhere that all men ought to do that once they hit that magical age. Finding the life story pretext a bore once he's started, he impulsively changes course and decides to pen his "memorias" ["memoirs"] (4) or "confesiones" ["confessions"] (31) based on one real-life event from his teens and the recurrent dreams that it's inspired since then. "No sé si esto es interesante" ["I don't know if this is interesting"], he confides at one point, "tampoco me importa" ["nor does it matter to me"] (11). Whether the narrator really means all he says or not (he later equally convincingly affirms that "me hubiera gustado clavar la noche en el papel como a una gran mariposa nocturna" ["I would have liked to have pinned the night to the paper like a grand, nocturnal butterfly"]) (31), people who have read Onetti before will no doubt guess that, the ambiguously life-affirming riffs on writing as an act of creation of its own universe aside, much of the desperation and sordidness that follows is uncompromising, unpleasant, but written with real verve: kind of like a circa 30-page x-ray of a damaged, emotionally stunted, and all too troubled soul haunted by loneliness, personal failures, and the desire to find a measure of understanding from a fellow human being in a world he doesn't believe in. On that note, why is the novella called The Pit? Well, just how sympathetic are you to unsympathetic characters? I believe both questions are related--and answered--in the uncomfortable aside below (18):
He leído que la inteligencia de las mujeres termina de crecer a los veinte o veinticinco años. No sé nada de la inteligencia de las mujeres y tampoco me interesa. Pero el espíritu de las muchachas muere a esa edad, más o menos. Pero muere siempre; terminan siendo todas iguales, con un sentido práctico hediondo, con sus necesidades materiales y un deseo ciego y oscuro de parir a un hijo. Piénsese en esto y se sabrá por qué no hay grandes artistas mujeres. Y si uno se casa con una muchacha y un día se despierta al lado de una mujer, es posible que comprenda, sin asco, el alma de los violadores de niñas y el cariño baboso de los viejos que esperan con chocolatines en las esquinas de los liceos.
[I've read that the intelligence of women stops increasing at the age of twenty or twenty-five. I don't know anything about the intelligence of women nor does it interest me. But the spirit of girls dies at that age, more or less. And it dies for good: they all wind up the same, with an annoying practical side, with their material necessities, and a dark blind desire to have a baby. Think about this and you'll know why there are no great female artists. And if you get married to a girl and one day wake up next to a woman, it's possible that you'll understand, without revulsion, the souls of the rapists of little girls and the drooling puppy love of the old men who wait on high school corners with boxes of chocolates in hand.]
El pozo can be found on pages 1-31 of Volume I of Juan Carlos Onetti's complete works, Obras completas I. Novelas I (1939-1954), edited by Hortensia Campanella (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2005). It's also available in English as part of a twofer, The Pit & Tonight, in a solid translation by Peter Bush (London: Quartet Books, 1991, 1-29).