Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The half-life of love is forever

After dragging myself through All the Names and July's People, I decided to read something more contemporary with a fair bit of cussing (joking about the latter). I first spotted This Is How You Lose Her in an airport bookstore, read the line "the half life of love is forever" in the blurb (mind you, I was studying radioactive decay then) and have hungered to read it since.

It took me a while to realize that I was reading a collection of short stories, not a novel - Diaz's narrative tone is so autobiographical throughout and his characters recurrent that the stories, like Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, string together effortlessly.

This Is How You Lose Her revolves around, Yunior, a reckless yet innately sensitive womanizer who goes around breaking hearts but always eventually gets his fair share of karma and learns that he's become prone to "losing 'her,'" whoever 'she' may be - his high school teacher, his fiancee, or maybe even just some 'sucia' he met at a club.

From being subconsciously aware of his father's dishonesty (I may be wrong but it was heavily insinuated) to watching his brother recycle helplessly stricken girls, Yunior finally becomes the fickle, mercurial "Dominican man" most girls in the stories come to stereotype and avoid; he is left in adulthood, suffering from stenosis and sour.

The best in this collection are: The Pura Principle (the funniest), Invierno (the tenderest) and The Cheater's Guide to Love (the most confessional and heartfelt one of all).

Sadly, one story - Otravida, Otravez - fits uncomfortably into the collection because it is written in the perspective of a woman and trammels the otherwise continuous flow of Diaz's narrative; nonetheless, This Is How You Lose Her is a quick and hilarious read.

I'll definitely read Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; from what I've heard, they embody the same, if not more, explosive literary energy Diaz pours into This Is How You Lose Her.

“A father is a hard thing to compass.”
“In the months that follow you bend to the work, because it feels like hope, like grace--and because you know in your lying cheater's heart that sometimes a start is all we ever get.”
“Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things and you waited and couldn't do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel.”

July's People

I unfortunately didn't cling on to this novel as much as I was hoping to - I'll revisit certain pages and remember particular phrases but eventually think: 

What I did manage to grasp, with aid of the blurb: July's People is set in the late 1980s. July, a servant, helps the white family he serves - the Smales family - escape the violence of the African Americans' violent retaliation to apartheid. The way Gordimer sews the human relationships together in this novel is tender and masterful (I'm definitely rereading this novel).

I bolted down 100 pages of this book at 2am last night (bad idea) but thankfully pulled myself together for the ending, which is gorgeously written. This novel is a delicate clash between love and angst. Although its plot line is tough to follow (due to the prose), this novel has at least told me one thing: continue reading Nadine Gordimer!!
The humane creed [...] depended on validities staked on a belief in the absolute nature of intimate relationships between human beings. If people don't all experience emotional satisfaction and deprivation in the same way, what claim can there be for equality of need?

All the Names

Senhor Jose is a clerk at the Central Registry, an establishment headed by the inscrutable and incontestable Head Register. Jose, like all the other employees who work at the Registry, is tasked with the job of "transforming life and death into mere paper;" of recording the date of births, marriages and deaths of all citizens.

With a myriad of files at his disposal, Jose begins a dangerously unconventional hobby - collecting the files containing the information of famous people. Then, he makes the discovery of the file of an 'unknown woman' that changes his life and puts his career at risk.

A recurring theme in Jose Saramago's novels is that of the unbreakable union of life and death; although this theme is definitely portrayed in All the Names, what I found most enlightening was the idea of order(almost Big Brother-esque)that is encapsulated in the workings of the registry. Everything follows orderly processions and unquestioned regulations - perhaps the most magical moment of the novel is when Saramago abruptly switches to the first person narrative, right after Jose 'spills the beans.' It is only in the wake of his emotional dispatch, one compressed for years, that Jose may become an individual only fugaciously free from the bonds of the Registry.

"In order to die, you need only be alive." It is not an amalgamation of life and death that Saramago suggests, but rather the inevitable nature of their non-mutually-exclusiveness. The dialogue, free of quotation marks, may send readers down a path as tortuous as that of the Registry's archives, but perhaps quotation marks are too 'lively' for this sinister novel.

...I really need to start reading novels that have likable protagonists.

As a result of a fall he might have lost his life, which would doubtless have a certain importance from a statistical and personal point of view, but what, we ask, if that life were instead to remain biologically the same, that is, the same being, the same cells, the same features, the same stature, the same apparent way of looking, seeing and noticing, and, without the change even being registered statistically, what if that life became another life, and that person a different person.
Fame, alas, is a breeze that both comes and goes, it is a weather vane that turns both to the north and to the south, and just as a person might pass from anonymity to celebrity without ever understanding why, it is equally common for that person, after preening himself in the warm public glow, to end up not even knowing his own name.
When we announce the beginning of something, we always speak of the first day, when one should really speak of the first night, the night is a condition of the day, night would be eternal if there were no night.
There are, after all, so many coincidences in life, for one cannot see any close or immediate relationship between that fact and a sudden need for secrecy, but it is well known that the human mind very often makes decisions for reasons it clearly does not know, presumably because it does so after having travelled the paths of the mind at such speed that, afterwards, it cannot recognize those paths, let alone find them again.
There are people like Senhor José everywhere, who fill their time, or what they believe to be their spare time, by collecting stamps, coins, medals, vases, postcards, matchboxes, books, clocks, sport shirts, autographs, stones, clay figurines, empty beverage cans, little angels, cacti, opera programmes, lighters, pens, owls, music boxes, bottles, bonsai trees, paintings, mugs, pipes, glass obelisks, ceramic ducks, old toys, carnival masks, and they probably do so out of something that we might call metaphysical angst, perhaps because they cannot bear the idea of chaos being the one ruler of the universe, which is why, using their limited powers and with no divine help, they attempt to impose some order on the world, and for a short while they manage it, but only as long as they are there to defend their collection, because when the day comes when it must be dispersed, and that day always comes, either with their death or when the collector grows weary, everything goes back to its beginnings, everything returns to chaos.
It has long been known that death, either through innate incompetence or a duplicity acquired through experience, does not choose its victim according to length of life, a fact which, moreover, let it be said in passing, and if one is to believe the words of the inumerable philosophical and religious authorities who have pronounced on the subject, has, indirectly and by different and sometimes contradictory routes, had a paradoxical effect on human beings, and has produced in them an intellectual sublimation of their natural fear of dying.