Friday, October 17, 2008

Eloy Urroz

I finished The Obstacles by Eloy Urroz. I have been eager to read this book since first seeing it, and not buying it, at Myopic. Almost immediately, I saw that an interview with the author on Words Without Borders. Damn, I said. I thought it had to be some kind of serendipity and decided to go back and buy the book, which, of course, was gone.

Flash forward a few months. I find the book at Powell’s, quickly snatch it and let it sit on the shelf along with all the other books I plan to read someday and probably never will.

But I did read The Obstacles. I wanted to see what the Crack Generation of Mexican writers were up to. Now, I have not read Jorge Volpi or Ignacio Padilla (other members of the group) so I can’t lay a big blanket statement, but I will say the following based solely on the one book:

There’s something interesting going on in the new generation of Latin American writers. Oh, there’s some that fail to do much of interest, of course, but it’s nice to see the Boom cloud starting to fade and a new crop of talents emerging from under its shadow. People ask me (not really, but if they did) about my love for Bolaño and I say that his work acts as one of the biggest proponents toward broadening world (specifically Latin American) literature. His works are as political as the Boom folks could be (think Vargas Llosa) and as inventive (think Garcia Marquez). He broke with Magical Realism, but stuck to narrative innovation (think Cortazar). He worshipped literature as a sort of deity (like Borges) and saw the potential for genre mash-ups, most notably in the incorporation of the detective novel and the fictional encyclopedia (think Borges again). But he did all this without the direct emulation or exploitation other Latin American writers were guilty of (think Isabelle Allende).

So I love the guy. And I am anxious to find others like him. I am not sure about the Crack Generation yet, but I can say that I admire The Obstacles for its narrative complexity and its blurring of stories. There are interesting mechanics at work, though I can’t get past a few criticisms. First, there is not a lot of differentiation in the characters. The primary narrators (there are about five total) are Ricardo and Elias. Both have stories that end up merging and both share a lot of similarities. This is no accident. But there voices are all too alike, and I can’t say with total confidence that this was intentional. If it was, it would be justified by the novel’s conclusion, but I’m not 100% sure that Urroz was trying to make them the same. I suspect his intention was to have two distinct voices converge, and, assuming that is so, he didn’t really make each character unique enough to pull that off. God knows I have no clue how to effectively create a character, but I know it has been done and could’ve been done better.

I don’t regret reading the book-not by a long shot-though I admit there were a few tedious moments and one point that I thought was overwritten. It’s an ambitious book, and I always applaud ambition. All in all, I admire books like this for their vision and reach. I only hope Urroz’s other novels get translated and published here in the states so I can see what else he has done. I’m sure they are worth investigating. And I am excited that there are people in Latin America striving to get away from the Boom but still keeping the qualities of that movement (if you can call it that) alive.

I need to read Volpi. I have his novel at home, but it will be put aside for a bit. 2666 comes out in less than a month, and, until then, I’m sticking with poetry (Lorca, Mistral, Joyce Mansour, and Juan Felipe Herrera) and a slim book or two (just started Sylvia by Leonard Michaels, which is already proving to be great).

Stay tuned, those who give a madass fuck.