Friday, December 30, 2011

Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico

When Borders was shuttering its doors several months back, I picked up a few books on the 80% off day, and one of them was Javier Marías’s Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico (trans. Esther Allen). It isn’t the kind of book they usually carried by their end (a translation and one by a small press to boot), so I can only assume it is something a patron had special ordered and then didn’t pick up. This turned out to be lucky for me, as I’d been wanting to read something by Marías without necessarily committing to one of the longer works that he is more known for. Bad Nature was a great introduction to Marías, I’m happy to say, and it leaves me wanting to read more.

The book is tiny, and much like Mario Bellatín’s Beauty Salon it seems like it should be the capstone of a story collection—but it is hard to complain given how delightfully excessive and funny Marías is as he explores the story of a translator hired to work with Elvis on a film set in Mexico. Something, we learn early on, has gone terribly wrong, and the narrator became a target:

No one knows what it is to be hunted down without having lived it, and unless the chase was active and constant, carried out with great deliberation, determination, dedication, and never a break, with perseverance and fanaticism, as if the pursuers had nothing else to do in life but look for you, keep after you, follow your trail, locate you, catch up with you and then, at best, wait for the moment to settle the score. It isn’t that someone has it in for you and stand at the ready to pounce should you cross his path or give him the chance; it isn’t that someone has sworn revenge and waits, waits, does no more than wait and therefore remains passive, or schemes in preparation for his blows, which as long as they’re machinations cannot be blows, we think the blows will fall but they may not, the enemy may drop dead of a heart attack before he sets to work in earnest, before he truly applies himself to harming us, destroying us.

This first paragraph goes on for a few more wild sentences, and then the discussion of all the things being hunted down is not like continues for several more pages: Marías revels in all the different ways he can think up to say the same thing. Despite the narrator’s description of a terrible incident, the novel is comedic, a long anecdotal joke full of humorous descriptions of the people surrounding Elvis and their bizarre behavior. Moreover, Marías makes use of this humor to deflate machismo (and its American equivalent): here, characters’ homophobia and aggression lead only to trouble.

How nice to end a year of reading on such a high note, especially after the bad taste of The Bad Girl.

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