Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pure, Explicit, Invincible

Read three novels while visiting GH's family for Christmas. The first was a recommendation by his father, who is an avid reader. Calico Joe, published in 2012, is touted as John Grisham's first baseball novel. In my teens I used to tear through Grisham's legal thrillers, absorbed in the arcane world of courtroom drama. Baseball is just as arcane to me, but my ignorance was no barrier to enjoying this fast-paced novel. A boy is torn between his baseball idol and his baseball father, who play against each other in one fateful match. Grisham is a good storyteller, who knows how to put a story through its paces. What annoyed me was the times when he tried for some deeper meaning, and sounded pretentious instead. It's pretty obvious that the story is about the all-American hero and his evil twin. There is no need to hammer home the dualistic point. The characterization is not very complex, but the father comes off as the most interesting character because he was the most injured and the most injuring.

My second book was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores. The protagonist, a newspaper columnist, turns ninety and decides to abandon all for a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin. To his surprise, he falls in love with the girl and names her Delgadina. He is revived by love and its sufferings. This is a short novel, but it is full of lovingly observed detail, which renders the texture of an old man's experience so utterly believable. It makes me want to write a book about my beautiful porn star who died of an overdose of prescription medicine.

No One Writes to the Colonel, also by Marquez, is a collection of short stories. The title story is quite long, however, and is the most substantial of the lot. The eponymous colonel and his wife live in the most penurious circumstances while waiting for his government pension. They share the little that they have with a fighting cock, whom everyone in town believes will win the coming cock fights. The animal very quickly becomes the symbol of hope for a hopeless community. The colonel's wife tries to persuade him to sell the cock so that they could get some food. He relents but repents in time to retrieve the bird. The conclusion is powerfully poignant. He is asked by his wife about what they would eat in the meantime.

It had taken the colonel seventy-five years--the seventy-five years of his life, minute by minute--to reach this moment. He felt pure, explicit, invincible at the moment when he replied: 
"Shit."

The other stories are all set in the same town of Macondo. My favorites are the heartbreaking "Tuesday Siesta" and the heartwarming "Balthazar's Marvelous Afternoon." The first is about the death of a thief, the second about the gift of a beautiful bird cage. In both, human emotions are "pure, explicit, invincible" too.

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