Purposeful Imperfections

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Month: September, 2013

Light in August by William Faulkner

Light in August by William Faulkner

Identity is a force that can edify or destroy; it’s also an artificial construct, culled from class, gender, and race by society. That something so arbitrarily created can determine one’s fate is a devastating tragedy. This is what Light in August is about and why it is a powerful and important book.

The Infatuations by Javier Marías

The Infatuations by Javier Marías

Identity, even in death, is mutable Javier Marías tells us. This makes perfect sense coming from a writer (in)famous for his neurotic reconsideration of themes, ideas, and events as well as leading his characters through labyrinths of tautology, digression, and psychological investigation. Any and everything can—and, likely, will—become blurred in a Marías novel. Take, for instance, the author/narrator relationship: characters often possess variations on Marías’s first and last names…and isn’t that the same white dress shirt on the book’s cover that Marías is wearing in his author photo? Or, how about the distinction between dialog and thought? Both are usually placed inside of quotes and they often interrupt one another.

For Marías, everything is subjective and, thus, subject to ravenous inquiry and critique. Such dogged curiosity can come at a cost, however, and The Infatuations is reminder that some things might be better left alone. The more one investigates—the more we become obsessed with an idea or infatuated with a person—the more complex and messy things become. The deeper one digs, the murkier it gets; what initially seemed wholly implausible becomes inevitable; the real turns out to be quite unreal. After all, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction:

“Unlikely truths are useful and life is full of them, far more than the very worst of novels, no novel would ever dare give houseroom to the infinite number of chances and coincidences that can occur in a single lifetime, let alone all those that have already occurred and continue to occur. It’s quite shameful the way reality imposes no limits on itself.”

What we’re left with is a profound feeling of uncertainty. Even murder turns out to be not so easily judged. This novel has been billed as a thriller, and that’s absolutely true, though this has less to do with a conventional who done it (which is in here, sort of). Rather, it’s the doubt and hyper subjectivity that Marías cultivates throughout the novel that take root in the reader, leaving us quite unsettled. But don’t despair; it’s just a novel, right?

“Once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.”