Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comments on "Say Her Name" by Francisco Goldman

It may seem a reader could hopscotch through Say Her Name without disturbing Francisco Goldman’s plotting for narrative pleasure, action, enigma, discovery, or expansive thematic elaborations. The book’s counterintuitive narrative design scatters, dissolves, and obstructs puerile, frivolous, or morbid desire for unambiguous reveals and an imposing closure by declaring in its opening page the tragic death of the narrator’s (young) wife of two years, Aura, a Latin American literature, PhD student at Columbia and an aspiring writer, in the summer of 2007. This page also divulges the internal tensions among grievers and documents the slapdash accusation of Juanita, the deceased’s hard-drinking, manipulative, Mexican mother who vehemently disapproved of this relationship. Thus, not much to tell afterwards but backstories, minutiae, and, even less gripping, how the mournful husband, Francisco/Frank/Paco, a famous writer whose emotional maturity struggles to catch up with his age (almost fifty that dreadful year). The book is unapologetically nomadic, rhizomatic, circuitous. Readers may be tempted to set it down after ten pages, and several times after that. Without anything resembling a gripping plot line (or any compelling action), other aspects of emotion, theme, humanity, compassion, and (not my cup of tea) love.

Partly sharing in Goldman’s writerly and social network, admiring his oeuvre, and laboring as a scholar to understand post-conflict Guatemalan culture, I kept at it. Perhaps other matters, more personal, hectored my keeping at it: my own wife of sixteen years is his colleague in Hartford’s Trinity College (Wadley College in the book); the academic grapevine slipped that the book would dish about academics in the field of Latin American literary studies (with pseudonym’s and some screening—Grover Press’s lawyers’ must have required it); I may or may not be also struggling with love and loss in my own, burgeoning mid-life crisis; and I still hold a modicum of discipline when reading for infra-melodic tropes as any academic would. A giggle, a trivial piece of academic gossip, minor self-help value, some scientific tidbits on waves/string theory and the therapeutic intractability of mourning and melancholia (Freud, Lacan referenced; no Junot Díaz-styled footnotes) may have prodded my commitment to read swiftly. But the book gently, assuringly, sways with enough emotion, lyricism, eroticism, and narrative tension to sustain a salutary devotion to his book.

Various thoughts weigh in my mind—the afterglow of a good read. Loss sets the register for a composition on love. There is a lyrical, symphonic quality in this tome. Although there is some discussion of family dynamics, exhumation of sexual histories, and various intertextual references on loss and love, the author disrupts the psychoanalytical/archeological gaze, allowing the aural, melodic desire to produce meaning. There is a semiotic encoding at work.

Not surprisingly, mothers are keystones to the lovers’ psychological constitution and also the melodic key to develop other compositional themes: Francisco’s mother, Aura’s maternal grandmother, Aura’s mother, Aura’s desire to become a mother, father’s are ensconced, vilified, shunned by wives, children, and kin.

Similarly, friendship, in broad, non-institutional, cosmopolitan, and across-kinship ways, establishes the social tone, more powerful than national identity or state presence. The narrator indexes, perhaps referencing Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator,” a tapestry’s reverse, its loose threads and odd patterns; it constitutes and structures the artful, discreet, and cogent design in the fascia; the obverse is a pretense: family, marriage, class, the legal framework of social relations are a sham, while friendship, in its haphazard, intractable fashion, holds more verifiable social pattern in place.

Debt, although I may be projecting, has a close, symbolic relation to emotion and love. The moral hierarchy (love/sex:money/credit) evinces broad contamination. The narrative voice mentions money frequently and with some precision: buying/selling (gloves, hats, coffee presses, computers), renting (apartments in Brooklyn, Condesa, Paris, Mazunte; cars), paying for services (taxis, bus services, an air ambulance from Mazunte Beach, where Aura’s accident took place, and Mexico City, where she would eventually pass, cost $12,000 in cash, payable before take-off), receiving money (death insurance benefits, a check from a car insurance agency after a hit-and-run, Aura’s savings account, post-mortem). Beyond the normal expectations, money becomes a matter of concern for the narrative voice. It wields happiness, love, work, friendship, kinship, death, and mourning. It also expresses in monetary terms, matters of morality, devotion, loyalty, love, joy, mourning, and melancholia, as if the value of sentiment could not be fathomed outside of economic or monetary thought.

Love and money interrelate algorithmically. As such, the narrator explicitly correlates Francisco’s credit card debt to his relation with the young, ambitious, seductive Aura as if the disparity in youth and beauty (as per the narrator’s judgment) established ab initio a scarcity that needed to be actualized in monetary terms—and not in a way that could be ever cleared. Francisco does, mostly, whatever his spouse wishes, understanding that his debt was, as with finance capital, calculated in non-linear, compounding numbers, and unpredictable.

More to come...

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