.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Started 3/17, finished 4/7

Book #6 was supposed to be the Satanic Verses, but I didn't want to bring a banned book into a new foreign country. I figured the worst they could do was confiscate it, but I just didn't want to deal with even the smallest hassle. I brought the Maestro instead.

If you'll recall, I've read the Maestro before. At the time I commented that the man uses words like knives to cut through the boring bullshit of what other writers (including myself) consider important. That is still true in Cholera. When most writers would take pains to explain to you "the problems of river navigation" that his main character is solving, Marquez just tells you he was solving them brilliantly. Why leave it out? Because it doesn't matter. These characters have rich lives in parallel to the plot of this story, but Marquez doesn't care about them. He's giving you a single viewpoint into his perspective on this story, and only shows you enough of it to get across the main point.

This story is about two young lovers who meet and fall in love very early in life. When the opportunity arises for them to become serious and reveal their love to the world, the woman suddenly decides that the whole affair was silly, and chalks it up to youth. Unbeknownst to her, he spends the next 51 years waiting for her husband to die, so that he can restate his lifelong vow of love to her, and they can stage an epic courtship at a time when most couples are retiring and dying together.

Along the way, we catch glimpses of their lives, love affairs, children, jobs, travels, and sicknesses. At certain points we're convinced that neither party has given the other a moment's thought in years. But there is always a lingering memory waiting around a corner, something that will trigger one or the other to rediscover the longing they shared in their youth.

It's told beautifully. We come to know these people, even though it's through this one window of perception, as well as we would know a fellow schoolmate, a co-worker, a boss, a grandparent. All the stages of their lives are described so vividly that we feel they must have existed, that we are reading a textbook instead of literature. The best-written textbook ever, by the way.

And yet sometimes I was frustrated. Frustrated because he will describe the process the man uses, for example, to formulate a love letter. He spends pages on how it will be crafted, how the thoughts will pile upon each other until the pen flows as freely as a river. How others are in awe of the emotional power his words can produce. And then? We never get to read the frickin' letter!

Sometimes, when I take off my rose-colored glasses, when I make myself forget the words of Crawford Kilian, who said, "any aspiring writer who doesn't read the master [Marquez] is stumbling around in a dark blind alley.", I think to myself "wasn't that easy?"

Isn't it great that I can tell about a guy who writes a beautiful letter, a letter so woeful and amazing that women melt into puddles reading it...and then I don't need to actually write it?

I mean, Ayn Rand had a character who invented a machine which would take the static electricity out of the air and turn it into DC current. She didn't explain how it worked. Is that the same thing? Well, kind of yes, kind of no. This fiction thing is all about invention and imagination, but the medium of exchange is the written word. When you say that a man wrote some amazing words, isn't it kind of cheating to then playfully skip over those words? It reminds me of Tenacious D, who once played the greatest song in the world, but have now forgotten it, and must instead sing a tribute to the greatest song in the world.

I've read novels about best-selling novelists where the novels themselves are never revealed. But said novels usually aren't the main focus of the story, either. I believe Marquez is capable of writing love letters that great, so why didn't he?

I once wrote an outline of a story, which I may still use, where the long lost footage from Orson Welles' Magnificent Ambersons is found. Upon hearing about this, a friend asked, "well, aren't you going to need to make with the footage, especially if this turns into something?" I guess the answer is, "no, not if I'm considered untouchable."

Anyway, this was just a niggling little criticism, borne more out of disappointment than real ire. In the ~180 page Of Love and Other Demons, it was a rarely but effectively used tool for skipping details. In Cholera, I felt like he just got tired of writing, and started glossing. The first sections of Cholera are told in a more traditional "show" manner, where the scene paints itself and we are led around by the description, rather than just reading an account of the actions and motivations of the various characters. It was beautiful. Then around page 80 he lapses into this "tell" mode, particularly when it comes to his characters' writing, where I start to long for the colors and textures (and specificity, most importantly) of what had come before. It was still good, but it didn't make me dream.

It's just that if you know you're reading one of the greatest writers of all time, and he's talking about truly great writing, it's a jarring thing to be denied the opportunity to see at least one example.

None of this will deter me from agreeing that Marquez is one of the greatest writers out there, nor will it keep me from reading a Hundred Years of Solitude, hopefully later this year.

Book #7 will be Everyman, by Philip Roth



Blogger Jess said...

Oooh, weird synchronicity. I was thinking about stories in which writers talk about some great piece of writing that we never get to read just a couple of weeks ago. I might have to post about it now.

And, what, you didn't come away from this book thinking you'd just read an epic love letter from a stalker? That was pretty much my overwhelming sensation.

Not that I didn't enjoy the book, but One Hundred Years Of Solitude is where it's at. I really think you'll like that one.

Wed Apr 18, 07:13:00 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Yeah, I have to agree with Jess. You can call it love, but what it described was more like a cross between a grudge and an obsession. Stalker-y, yes.

But the man can wield a long, long sentence and never let it get away from him. He's a wordsmith, and no doubt about it.

Wed Apr 18, 02:45:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home