Diaspora, night, prostitution, literature, sex, uprooting, forgetfulness, madness, art, war, loneliness ... are some of the themes that Pedro Juan Gutiérrez weaves into an intoxicating cocktail in his latest novel "Stoic and Frugal" (2019), nothing that it is new for his readers, except for a certain restraint, a certain appraisal of the trance, which allows him to compose a more or less round story without first running out of control on one of the many paths of no return that open up throughout history.
And that trance, narrated in the first person, lasts approximately one calendar year between 1998 and 1999 (for which the writer writes twenty years away), a period in which he lives, or it will be better to say survives, a tour of Europe in the context of promoting one of his books (perhaps “Dirty Havana Trilogy”).
It is then about the detailed narration of this journey that starts in Havana, passes through Madrid, Vigo, Burgos, Benidorm, Hamburg, Basel, Dresden, Rome, and again Madrid to return to his mother Cuba (and within it to his trench in Centro Habana), a cycle of existential adventures that are interspersed in the narrative with evocations of other trips, with the mention of anecdotes of writers (Sebald, Cabrera Infante, Chejov, Hemingway, Bukowski, Kundera), and especially with the description of his encounters and disagreements with a series of unheard of characters, drawn from a surrealist catalog, within a secluded and twilight atmosphere.
The secret to not getting lost, contradictorily, seems to be letting yourself be carried away. The guidelines of the promotional tour lose importance and it is the circumstances that are imposed in the crazy itinerary. Pedro Juan, however, is resisting the temptations. "Stoicism and frugality always save me," he says, casting and catching the line without pause.
Gutiérrez's narrative style, which has contributed to embody the so-called “dirty realism” (along with Bukowski and Raymond Carver, among others), nuances in the long-term work towards the characterization of dark and decadent characters but of a profound poetic nature. The "stoicism" and "frugality" of its protagonist then show a ruse to, through the contrast of personality, highlight the anemic lyricism of their counterparts, their endearing morbidity.
We are talking about women made up of a marvelous inner world, of long-suffering experiences, of unstoppable passions. We are talking about men imprisoned by their vices in which at least one trait of sensitivity emerges. “We have no choice. We are that way. Some provocateurs. Vocation of implacable anthropologists. I'm a kamikaze, like you, and it took me a long time to get to this point. I'm always ready to crash with my bomb load. I don't know how to live otherwise. I don't want to live any other way ”.
It is the presence of the writer in these settings –we perceive it as we progress through the reading– that is the catalyst for latent emotions, our own and others, which, as well as re-sprout, fall asleep again to the rhythm of a neurotic, cyclothymic environment. “Sometimes it seems to me that Europe repeats itself. At first glance it gives the impression that everything has been said ”. And although everything, indeed, is, for him it will always make sense to revisit it.
From his terrace open to the illusory city of Havana, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, journalist, poet and painter, arouses the curiosity of the first-time reader. Looking at his blog, where the photograph of a mature man greets with a fresh gesture –which allows us to guess the secret of his creative freshness–, we review his career as the author of novels, short stories, poetry, chronicles and essays. It is also a national journalism award.
In this "Stoic and frugal" he feeds the imprint of a cursed writer, perhaps like any person subjected to the rigors of circumstances: "I spent years eating just a little bit of rice and beans every day. Only that. And I got drunk. My monthly salary suddenly equaled a meager three dollars. But every day I managed to find a bottle of lousy rum and a box of cigars. Everything collapsed in no time. I too sank with the water around my neck. An escape valve was desperate sex, alcohol and cigarettes… ”. The creative balance of this life on the edge, however, could not be more invigorating and numinous.
The Secret Everyday Obscenity (Dirty Realism Excerpts)
- "The Father", Raymond Carver (1961)
The baby was in a basket next to the bed, wearing a romper and a white hat. The wicker basket was freshly painted, padded with small blue duvets and fastened with light blue ribbons. The three little sisters and the mother, who had just got out of bed and had not yet fully awakened, and the grandmother all surrounded the baby and watched him stare and from time to time put his fist to his mouth. She didn't smile or laugh, but sometimes she would blink and move her tongue between her lips when one of the girls ran her hand over her chin.
The father was in the kitchen and he could hear them playing with the baby.
"Who do you love, little one?" Phyllis said, and tickled her chin.
"She loves us all," Phyllis said, "but the one she really loves is Dad, because Dad is a boy too!"
Grandma sat on the edge of the bed and said:
"Look at his little arm!" So fat. And those little fingers! Just like his mother's.
"Isn't she gorgeous?" Said the mother. So healthy, my little boy. She leaned over the crib, kissed the baby on the forehead, and touched the quilt that covered her arm. We love him too.
"But who does he look like, who does he look like?" Alice exclaimed, and they all walked over to the basket to see who it looked like.
"He has pretty eyes," Carol said.
"All babies have pretty eyes," Phyllis said.
"He has Grandpa's lips," Grandma said. Look at those lips.
"I don't know…" said the mother. I could not tell.
-Nose! Nose! Alice yelled.
"What about your nose?" Asked the mother.
"It looks like someone on the nose," said the girl.
"No, I don't know…" said the mother. I don `t believe.
"Those lips ..." Grandma said through her teeth. Those little fingers… she said, uncovering the baby's hand and extending her tiny fingers.
"Who does this child look like?"
"He doesn't look like anyone," Phyllis said. And they all got even closer to the basket.
-I know! I know! Carol said. It looks like dad! They all looked at the baby closely.
"But who does your dad look like?" Phyllis asked.
"Who does Dad look like?" Alice repeated, and then they all looked at the same time towards the kitchen, where the father was at the table, his back to them.
"Wow, nobody!" Phyllis said, and began to whimper a little.
"Hush," Grandma said, looking away. Then he looked back at the baby.
"Daddy doesn't look like anyone!" Alice said.
"But it'll have to look like someone," Phyllis said, wiping her eyes with one of the tapes. And all but the grandmother looked at the father, who was still sitting in the kitchen.
He had turned around in his chair and his face was pale and expressionless.
- "Twenty-five ragged tramps." Charles Bukowski (1974)
Kathy had cooked meat with lots of onions and chorraditas and spices, just the way I liked it. She was leaning over the kitchen and I grabbed her from behind.
"Listen, dear ...
He was standing there with the dripping ladle in his hand. I stuffed a ten dollar bill into the neck of her dress.
"I want you to bring me a bottle of whiskey."
"Okay, right now."
"And some beer and cigars." I'll take care of the food.
She took off her robe and went into the bathroom for a moment. I heard her hum. A moment later I sat in my chair and heard her heels click on the road. There was a tennis ball. I picked up the tennis ball and threw it on the floor so that it bounced toward the wall and into the air. The dog, which was one-fifty long by one tall, and half a wolf, leapt into the air, there was the snap of its teeth; he had caught the tennis ball, almost to the ceiling. For an instant it seemed to hang up there. What a wonderful dog, what a wonderful life. When it reached the ground, I got up to see how the stew was going. Perfectly. Everything was going perfectly.
- "Road to Los Angeles." John Fante (1985)
"Here is Marie. Oh Marie! Oh you, Marie! With your exquisite laugh and your intense perfume! He loved her teeth and her mouth, and the scent of her flesh. We used to find ourselves in a gloomy room with many books and cobwebs on the walls. There was a leather chair by the fireplace, and it must have been a huge house, a castle, or a French villa, because across the room, large and massive, was Émile Zola's desk as he had seen it. in a book. I was sitting there, reading the last pages of Nana, the passage of Nana's death, and Marie would rise like mist from between the pages and lay naked before me, laughing non-stop with her beautiful mouth and intoxicating scent, until I had no choice but to close the book, and she would come over and put her hands on the book as well, and shake her head with an intense smile, and I felt its warmth running through my fingers like electricity.
-Who are you?
"Are you really Nana?"
"The girl who dies here?"
"I'm not dead." I belong to you.
And fell into my arms.
Then came Ruby. She was an unpredictable woman, very different from the others and also much older. I always met her while she ran across a hot, dry plain on the other side of the Sierra del Funeral, in Death Valley, California. It was because he had been there in the spring and had not forgotten the beauty of that plain, and it was there that he would so often later see the unpredictable Ruby, a thirty-five-year-old woman, running naked across the sand; I chased her until in the end I caught her next to a pool of blue waters from which red steam always gushed out the moment I dragged her across the sand and buried my mouth in her neck, which was very warm but less attractive, because Ruby was getting older and her tendons were sticking out, but her neck was driving me crazy, and I liked the feel of her tendons tightening and relaxing as she gasped at the exact point where I'd caught her and knocked her to the ground.
And Jean! How much I liked Jean's hair! It was as golden as straw, and I always saw her drying her long wicks at the foot of a banana tree that grew on a hill, between the Palos Verdes mountains. I watched her comb her thick highlights. Sleepy and curled at his feet was a serpent similar to the one the Virgin Mary stepped on. I always approached Jean on tiptoe, so as not to wake up the snake, which sighed with pleasure when my feet sank into it, feeling an unspeakable pleasure throughout my body that was reflected in Jean's surprised eyes, and then gently slid my hands and cautiously by the magical warmth of the golden hair, and Jean laughed and told me that she knew it was going to happen that way, and she collapsed in my arms like a veil that falls.