Monday, February 21, 2011

05 Bad Nature, Or With Elvis in Mexico-Javier Marías

I’m finding ways to cheat in this quest to 50. This may be a novella of 57 pages but it is a thing of beauty. Marías is an elaborator, with sentences of largess that somehow seem tight. Maybe the length of the book allows for this feeling.

“…vengeance is extremely wearying and hatred tends to evaporate, it’s a fragile ephemeral feeling, impermanent, fleeting, so difficult to maintain that it quickly gives way to rancor or resentment which are more bearable, easier to retrieve, much less virulent and somehow less pressing, while hatred is always in a tearing hurry, always urgent: I want him dead, bring me the son of bitch’s head, I want to see him flayed and his body smeared with tar and feathers, a carcass, skinned and butchered, and then he will be no one and this hatred that is exhausting me will end.”

Poetic right? And this is only the second half of the first paragraph, a paragraph with two sentences (I’ll stop with the sentence talk in subsequent posts, please forgive me, and fuck you Stanley Fish).

The short version: An old man reflects on his life of running from murderers, and it all started with Elvis’s hubris.

The long version: this story is of a Spaniard who has been hired to travel through Mexico in the 60’s as Elvis Presley’s translator during the production of Fun in Acapulco. I love that this book was translated from Spanish, yet it's about a Spanish translator. Dizzying. The narrator is Ruibérriz, but the Elvis entourage calls him Roy Berry since we Americans can’t get shit right. Brilliant.

Since Elvis can’t sit still for a second, he goes out every night with his translator and at least 3 others. If they fly to Mexico City only five people can fit in the plane and come along with him. If he parties in Acapulco he is followed by packs of EP monogrammed shirts and jackets. Ultimately they end up in the wrong bar in Mexico City and one among the Elvis crew starts dancing and insults a mean crew of Mexicans with his terrible moves and subsequent theft of a green silk handkerchief.

Then the party goes sour. While Roy is translating what the gauchos in the bar say, Elvis gets pissed and has Roy say some not so nice things in return. The Gauchos only know Spanish, but they don’t want to kill Elvis, so now Roy is the object of their ire, because, you know, the words came out of Roy’s mouth.

Marías does a lot well. The observations of Elvis as a person are unique and heartwarming. I can only imagine how cool Elvis really was, but Marías makes me believe that Elvis sings his way through each moment of the day, like an Elvis sing-a-long, but Elvis is really there singing your favorites.

Marías packs so much into this short work that I’m on the prowl for more from Spain’s greatest living author. Any suggestions?

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