Monday, March 12, 2018

Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo (1955)

Here's how this novel opens: "I came to Comala because I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Páramo, lived there. It was my mother who told me. And I had promised her that after she died I would go see him. I squeezed her hands as a sign that I would do it. She was near death, and I would have promised her anything." In her introduction, Susan Sontag declares that from this, "we know we are in the hands of a master storyteller." But here's my question: do we? Do we really? Because I feel like maybe I personally don't. I'm not saying it's bad or anything, but I feel like the alleged greatness here needs a bit of unpacking, which Sontag fails to provide.

Here's MY idea of a great opening to a novel: "Many years later as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." THERE is an opening for you. But, maybe I shouldn't object; supposedly, reading this novel inspired García Márquez to write his masterpiece, and more generally, it's supposed to have had a huge influence on the development of magical realism and Latin American fiction in general. Anyway, there's really no need to quibble, because even if I find Sontag's judgment of the opening a bit dubious, Pedro Páramo is actually really good.

So you can see how it kicks off from the quoted opening; this narrator, Juan Preciado, goes to Comala, only it's become a ghost town, and the novel is mostly taken up with the voices of the dead, both from beyond the grave and from the past itself. It's not right to say that parts of it are in flashback, though--rather, it kind of collapses distinctions between past and present. The novel is only first-person in part; the bulk of it is actually third-person narration, concerning the tyrannical title character and his even-worse (as the children of dicators so often are) son. Rulfo creates a very effective ominous, doom-laden atmosphere as we learn, sort of, what happened to the town. I've talked enough about how much I like long novels, but you gotta give it up for an effectively short one, which this (at a hundred-twenty-odd pages) is.

This is Rulfo's (1917-1986) only novel. He also wrote some short stories (which I should probably check out), but that's it. Of course, it's a bit frustrating when a talented writer just stops writing after having produced such a slim output, but it's definitely a way to make an impact. I think I'm probably underrating it, really; I liked it a lot, but it didn't have quite the seismic impact on me that it has on a lot of people. It's probably a matter of being in the right time and place. Regardless, after having just read a pair of acclaimed Latin American novels that mildly disappointed me, I'm glad to have found one that satisfies.


Post a Comment

<< Home