FODDER FOR OBLIVION

Born in New York City and raised in Mexico City, author Eloy Urroz fulfilled the promise of his early work with The Family Interrupted (2011), now available in an English translation by Ezra Fitz. In this novel, Urroz foregoes his debt to Gabriel García Márquez and adopts a melange of styles, ranging from the stripped-down and the oblique to the campy and the pathetic.  

The story takes place in two timelines. Young Mexico City filmmaker Luis Salerno Insausti has fled a legacy of family deceit to settle in post-9/11 Manhattan, where he comes face to face with his newly discovered queerness. Meanwhile, in the wake of the destruction of Bilbao by Franco’s army in the late 1930s, the poet Luis Cernuda has fled his native Spain for Britain, and bides his time there as a volunteer at an orphanage. In fragmentary episodes, the narrative discloses the linked fates of two men, and casts a light on human fragility and resilience, where we discern the mystery of our condition in clear outline.

As the story opens, Luis buys a copy of Cernuda’s Reality and Desire on a friend’s recommendation, and one afternoon, Setefilla, a young woman who was named after a character in Cernuda’s play The Family Interrupted, notices the book as Luis sits at a cafe table reading it, and approaches him. They exchange phone numbers and he forgets all about her. She fails to make an impression even after they meet again by chance in a club in Acapulco and have a one-night stand. Seven years later, Setefilla emails Luis, who, in the meantime, has moved to Manhattan, discovered that he is gay, and started a relationship with his first boyfriend. Luis returns to Mexico City from New York for his nephew’s funeral. His father informs him that he has cancer with only a few months to live. Will he stay with him until the end?  Luis finds Setefilla’s phone number written in his copy of Reality and Desire and dials it. The two meet and she tells him he has a son.

The revolutionary Crack Manifesto (1996) has been translated into English, but the work of the Crack group of writers remains little known in the United States. Founding Crack member Urroz contributed these lines to that founding document: “The Crack writers dream of a group of readers, somewhere in our Illiterate republic, who are sick and tired—disgusted by so much compromise and complacency.” When the group later revisited their manifesto with Crack: a User’s Manual, Urroz remarked, “It’s not so much about returning to the great texts of literature, the ones we all enjoyed. It’s about returning to the wish to write them, and imagine them, in a completely different way.” Judging from his novels available in English, it was with The Family Interrupted that Urroz’s writing fulfilled the promise of his aesthetic doctrine. Urroz’s earlier novels The Obstacles and Friction adopted the conventions of metafiction à la Jorge Luis Borges, and added a new glamor and gravitas to it, so each novel becomes a long conversation on romantic love, of a sort that might please the likes of Anaïs Nin. In The Family Interrupted, the lengthy, intricate, circular chapters of the earlier books give way to episodic fragments, where Urroz changes styles as his story demands, from neoplatonic discourse to post-symbolist delirium, to pomo camp, to pop pathos.

It’s a drag when art tries to show you how everything and everyone is “connected.” But Setefilla finally tells Luis she first approached him because she is Cernuda’s niece, and in this moment, the intertwining of the two stories seems right. It’s a plausible entanglement in the human mystery. Urroz add a postscript where he talks about reading Cernuda’s poems, and says the genesis of the novel came to him when he found out he had an aunt he didn’t know about before, and informs us that the story of The Family Interrupted was inspired by his nephew, who the book is dedicated to.

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