Monday, August 31, 2009

De González to González

Mes (autoproclamado) del cuento, entrada número 31.

Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 31. [In English below]

Desde que comencé este mes del cuento he querido reseñar un cuento puertorriqueño. La antología más conocida (o al menos la más accesible) de literatura puertorriqueña en este momento es la de Mercedes López-Baralt, publicada por la Universidad de Puerto Rico; Google Books la muestra aquí. Leí su sección de cuentos por sorbos, y de hecho ahí encontré uno de los cuentos que reseño hoy: “La carta”, de José Luis González. Pero para esta entrada quería algo más. Realicé una cacería infructuosa del cuento con el cual Mayra Santos-Febres se ganó el Juan Rulfo. Pensé en incluir un texto reciente de Luis López Nieves (“Los pedazos del corazón”, disponible aquí), básicamente una angustiosa literalización de una metáfora. Finalmente me topé, en The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, con lo que buscaba: “Lotería”, del puertorriqueño Kevin González. Es un cuento en inglés, lo que me pareció perfectamente apropiado para la cartografía lingüística de Puerto Rico. Así que haré una reseña que va de un González a otro González, y que va de español a inglés. Ilustra bien las complejidades de la isla.

José Luis González es un personaje complejo: nació en República Dominicana de padre puertorriqueño, se consideraba puertorriqueño (así lo caracteriza Ciudad Seva, sin más), y relativamente joven se radicó en México hasta el punto de hacerse ciudadano mexicano. En todo caso, dos de sus cuentos están incluidos en la antología de literatura puertorriqueña que mencioné hace un momento. Y el que quiero destacar es bastante sencillo (y muy breve: sugiero leerlo antes de seguir): “La carta”, disponible aquí.

En medio de su sencillez y su brevedad, “La carta” es un buen cuento. Muestra una carta escrita a su madre por Juan, un puertorriqueño que se fue de su casa en busca de una gran vida en la ciudad. La ortografía de la carta nos revela el nivel de educación de Juan. Luego de leer la carta, nos enteramos rápidamente de que la prédica de prosperidad era falsa, y que de hecho Juan tiene que mendigar incluso para poder enviar la carta por correo. Este contraste es bien manejado. Y es, además, una crítica social, una denuncia de las condiciones en las que vivía la gente en Puerto Rico a mediados del siglo XX. A veces González deja que sus textos se ahoguen en el sentimentalismo de esa crítica, como en este otro cuento recogido en la antología que mencioné. Eso no sucede en “La carta”, que logra ser un cuento simple, astuto y crítico. Antologizable, creo yo.

***

Let’s turn now to Kevin González. As I said, his short story “Lotería” was included in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007. González had the peculiar misfortune of having his name misspelled (as “Gonzáles”) a grand total of four times in that book. The short story was first published in 2006 in the Indiana Review (here), but I couldn’t find its full text online.

“Lotería” is not a tiny story (25 pages in the BANR edition), but it swooshes by as if it were. It revolves around a Puerto Rican man called Hector (without an accent), who’s son of Hector and father of Hector (this Hector is an eighteen-year-old nicknamed Tito). He is a wreck. He’s lived his whole life under his father’s shadow, studying what he studied (law), trying his best to get his father’s attention (being expelled from boarding school after boarding school, for instance, thinking “his father would have no choice but to take him home” [p. 177]). It all fails. Hector’s father is a powerful, even suffocating, presence in the story: he became wealthy after winning the lottery, and with the money he toured Europe (upon his return he prefixed his last name with a presumptuous “Di”: “What kind of man adds two letters to his surname to make him seem more exotic? More glamorous?” [p. 181]). He became a power-hungry and corrupt politician, he was forced to resign after a scandal provoked by a cover-up, he bought an apartment in Miami for his mistress.

Now Hector’s father is dead, and Hector has to deal with the young Tito (Hector’s father named Tito the executor of his will) in order to get his share of assets. But this will take a while. For now, he’s an impecunious middle-aged man inured to a life of riches, living in a cockroach-infested apartment in Miami, hitting on a waitress much younger than him (who makes plans to move in with Hector that quickly turn into blackmail), and sneaking into hotel swimming pools to get some exercise. Plus, he has to deal with his aging mother, who upon losing her home has had to move into the Miami apartment where her dead husband’s mistress lived (and died).

The story is filled with quirky details, which may seem over-the-top at some points, but, well, people are quirky. These details spice up the story considerably: a book of plagiarized essays Hector’s father used as an excuse for his Miami escapades, Hector’s obsession with a giant roach, photocopied suicide notes stuffed into every nook and cranny of the apartment, Hector’s father’s bankruptcy-prone obsession with Get Out of Jail Free cards in Monopoly. The story weaves all of this together with cleverness and humor, through a narrator not abashed of playing with the narrative. For instance: “[…] he […] went out for a stiff drink. / Okay, make that eight stiff drinks” (p. 166). Some themes keep cropping up, enriching the story as unlikely elements appear juxtaposed (in the context of the story, this is a provocative phrase: “In the sky, the stars glistened like all the periods that suicide notes have forgotten” [p. 179]).

All this denotes craft. It was very refreshing to find González’s voice in my search for a strong Puerto Rican story for this short story month. “Lotería” made me laugh, and it also made me appreciate the story’s narrative technique. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more of González’s fiction.

Today’s linguistic medley ends this self-proclaimed short story month. I’ll post a summary of sorts tomorrow.

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