Following up on this post, here’s the excerpt from Quim Monzo’s Gasoline that’s going to be read at the April 26th “Celebration of Open Letter” event.
In terms of set-up: Heribert is supposed to be preparing for a massive two-gallery show of new work. Instead, he couldn’t care less about painting. Or his mistress. Or even what’s going on with his wife . . .
He lines up all the blank canvases he has in the studio and examines them. What if he showed just that: white canvases, without the slightest trace of a human hand? It’s been done. Minimalism. And anyway, if he signs them he will have placed a few strokes of his own. He could not sign them. Someone must have done that, too. Is there anything original left to do? Even halfheartedly filling up all the walls of an exhibition isn’t new. Do you really have to do something new? Why? What is more important, to be honest or to be original? Out of honesty, people often refused to be original. And out of honesty people often fall silent rather than open their mouths only to hear their own voices. Will he be able to tell when he opens his mouth and nothing interesting comes out?
Helena’s voice floats up to him:
“I’m leaving. See you later.”
It seems to him that, in the past, she would always tell him where she was going when she left, to the gallery or to do this or that, or to see this or that person. Or maybe she had never done anything of the sort, and now he just imagined she had. He hears the front door close. He puts on his jacket, and as he goes down the stairs he tries to calculate how many times he’s done that this year. On the table next to the door there are two brochures: one from Chevrolet and another from Ford.
This time he has no trouble spotting her. She’s standing in front of the windows of a shoe store. Heribert hangs back by a telephone booth and watches her out of the corner of his eye. There’s a drunk hanging onto a mailbox, and a girl (dressed like an old-fashioned secretary) is trying to mail a big stack of letters (and looking afraid that the drunk may attack her). The phone in the phone booth rings. Heribert looks at Helena, who’s still looking at shoes, but has gone on to another window. He’s afraid the constant ringing of the phone no one is answering will make her turn around. He goes into the booth, picks up the receiver, and says hello. On the other end, he doesn’t hear a thing: no breathing, no click to indicate the call has been cut off. The line was totally dead. He hangs up and turns around. Helena is walking down the street. “All this,” he thinks, “just to see her go shopping or to the gallery . . .” Helena signals, and a taxi jumps three lanes and stops right in front of her. Heribert has to stop another one, quickly, but feels ridiculous lifting his arm to f lag it down. He will feel even more ridiculous, once inside, when he has to say, like in the movies, “Follow that car.” He remembers one where a taxi driver is thrilled when they ask him to follow another car, saying that he had been waiting all his long working life for that moment, like in the movies.
When he is in the cab and says it, the driver looks at him in the rearview mirror, gives a short laugh, and starts to talk. He talks nonstop the whole time, recklessly passing the other cars. Once, when Helena’s driver jumps a red light, Heribert’s steps on the gas and (between two lanes of traffic, almost scraping the cars on either side) shoots forward and crosses the street on the red just as a Cadillac Seville coming from the left makes the turn. They make such headway that, by the next red light, Heribert’s taxi is directly behind Helena’s. Heribert hides behind the driver’s head. If they keep up this pace, he thinks, soon they’ll take the lead, leaving the other car in their wake, turning this into the most original chase in history, in which they precede the pursued car instead of following it. They
go across the bridge.
Fifteen minutes later, Helena’s taxi stops on a wide, solitary avenue, lined with houses.
“Park across the street, a little farther down.”
Having to come up with such stratagems exhausts him. The driver says something under his breath and smiles. Looking out the back window, Heribert watches as Helena gets out of the cab and goes into one of the houses.
A couple of children are playing with an enormous ball in one of the yards. Heribert tries unsuccessfully to figure out what they’re playing: sometimes it looks like soccer, then like baseball, then a minute later like handball. Then they laugh and take a rest, leaning on the fence. Once, he thinks they look at him, whisper about him, and laugh again.
He sits on the curb, and since he’s getting bored, he starts doing things. First he counts the seconds that elapse between one particularly loud shout from one of the kids and the first car to go down the street (another taxi): 634. Then he counts the minutes until the next car (a Mercury Cougar) goes by: 18. He adds the 634 seconds and the 18 minutes: 652. He finds it interesting to add up dissimilar things. In school they said you couldn’t add apples and oranges. If he adds the 652 to the 2 kids playing in the yard, he gets 654 seconds, minutes, and kids. He counts the cars parked on that stretch of street: 17. Added to the previous 654 that makes
671 seconds, minutes, kids, and cars on that stretch of street. He thinks of adding in the 4 stoplights, the two garbage cans he can see, the fire hydrants, the potholes. If he could add up all objects, all feelings, all ideas, all creatures, add them all up together, everything would be so simple. How easy it would be to face any situation, get out of any labyrinth, form a fairly accurate image of the world; the world (for example) would be exactly 78,345,321,834,042,751,539 things. If he could just diagram this feeling of perplexity! But how? Turning the canvas into a blackboard and writing down all those figures seems idiotic to him. And the mere thought of coming up with a more elaborate way to depict that morass wears him
He lets himself fall back. It feels wet. He looks at the white sky. It’s cold out. He thinks it’s strange that the two children are playing outside on such a cold day. He thinks, “If I start to imagine that the sky is empty, I’ll fall upwards, I’ll fall into the clouds.”
After a wait that seems interminable, Helena appears arm in arm with a tall man, with brown hair and a broad mouth, wearing a very long, gray raincoat and glasses with apple green, almost fluorescent, frames.
Thinking that he has to get up to follow them, he lies down again and keeps trying to convince himself that gravity will suck him up into the sky, but he doesn’t quite manage to believe it. When Helena and her escort catch a cab at the corner, he gets up, brushes off his pants, and starts walking home.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .