Three Openings [Two Month Review: The Invented Part]
Here are the first few paragraphs of Rodrigo Fresán’s Kensington Gardens, translated by Natasha Wimmer:
It begins with a boy who was never a man and ends with a man who was never a boy.
Something like that.
Or better: it begins with a man’s suicide and a boy’s death, and ends with a boy’s death and a man’s suicide.
Or with various deaths and various suicides at varying ages.
I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter.
Everybody knows—it’s understandable, excusable—that numbers, names, and faces are the first to be jettisoned or to throw themselves from the platform during the shipwreck of memory, which always lies there ready fro annihilation on the rails of the past.
One thing, at any rate, is clear. At the end of the beginning—at the beginning of the end—Peter Pan dies.
And here’s the beginning of The Bottom of the Sky (forthcoming), in Will Vanderhyden’s translation:
Find yourself wherever you find yourself, near or far, if you can read what I now write, please, remember, remember me, remember us, like this.
Remember us, remember me, remember that in those days the inhabitants of our planet, of our miniscule universe, were divided into interstellar travelers and creatures from other worlds.
The rest were but secondary characters.
The anonymous builders of the rocket.
Or men and women enslaved by distant creatures of impossible anatomy that, nevertheless, a great mystery, always spoke our language perfectly.
Or humans who practiced the tongue of extraterrestrials that, an even greater mystery, was so similar to the English spoken by a foreigner of a not-too-distant country.
And astronaut or alien weren’t yet terms of common use.
They weren’t, like today, present equally in the mouths of children and the elderly. Those words, like a familiar taste, easy to identify at first bite for teeth both young and new or old and fake.
It wasn’t like now (think of technological jargon as a new form of pornography, of the production of military and domestic gadgets of all size and utility, of faces and bodies modified by laser procedures, of a life after life, and of alternate realities tangled in a network of small computer screens) when there are days that I’m invaded by the suspicion that all the inhabitants of this planet are, without being aware of it, writers of science fiction.
Or, at least, characters created by writers of science fiction.
Back then, in the beginning, it was different.
Finally, here’s the opening of The Invented Part, also translated by Will Vanderhyden:
How to begin.
Or better: How to begin?
(Adding the question mark that—nothing happens by chance—has the shape of a fish or meat hook. A sharp and pointy curve that skewers both the reader and the read. Pulling them, dragging them up from the clear and calm bottom to the cloudy and restless surface. Or sending them flying through the air to land just inside the beach of these parentheses. Parentheses that more than one person will judge or criticize as orthographically and aesthetically unnecessary but that, in the uncertainty of the beginning, are oh so similar to hands coming together in an act of prayer, asking for a fair voyage just now underway. We read: “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate;” we hear: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” And good luck to all, wishes you this voice—halfway down the road of life, lost in a dark woods, because it wandered off the right path—that the gag of the parentheses renders unknown. And yet—like with certain unforgettable songs, whose melodies impose themselves over the title and even over the signature lines of the chorus, what’s it called? how’d it go?—this voice also recalls that of someone whose name isn’t easy to identify or recognize. And, yes, if possible, avoid this kind of paragraph from here onward because, they say, it scares away many of today’s readers. Today’s electrocuted readers, accustomed to reading quickly and briefly on small screens. And, yes, goodbye to all of them, at least for as long as this book lasts and might last. Unplug from external inputs to nourish yourselves exclusively on internal electricity. And—warning! warning!—at least in the beginning and to begin with, that’s the idea here, the idea from here onward. Consider yourselves warned.)
Or better still: To begin like this?
Although these are distinct, they each have an element of hesitation in them. Kensington Gardens opens strong (“It begins with a boy . . .”) before undercutting that certitude (“Something like that.”), and going off into other possibilites of how to frame the story (“Or better:” “Or” “I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter.”).
The Bottom of the Sky is more imploring in its opening hesitations, questioning if there’s anyone out there to read these words, needing them to remember, before turning toward the past and trying to recover a sense of what that time was like.
After questioning its opening (“How to begin. Or better: How to begin?”), The Invented Part turns on a metafictional dime, grounding the idea that this is a book that is aware it is being written (“Adding the question mark that—nothing happens by chance—has the shape of a fish or meat hook.”) and then addresses potential critics of this stylistic approach (“Parentheses that more than one person will judge or criticize as orthographically and aesthetically unnecessary . . .”).
I’m not sure what to make of these three openings, except that there’s something familiar between the three, a sort of groping around in the narrative voice that is—to me at least—inviting and honest. Looking at these after having read all three of these books, they call to mind the idea that these books sort of drift in out of the ether, signals from somewhere beyond that are in search of a reader. Once you get deeper into any of the novels, this sort of hesitation is shuffled off to the side, but it’s as if the narrative has to lull you in first, aware that all works of fiction are essentially unstable and rely on the imagination and belief of the reader to really work.