by Jaime Grijalba.
Well, that wasn’t long, was it? Just as this review, that may feel a bit short to some, but it has a reason to be that way. Anyway, I feel like I have to repay you after all this time of inactivity, after all I made a promise and I have to honour it, as I said last time. While I know that this is time for celebration and recounts, lists and retrospectives, oportunities for festivals, awards and many other things, specially for those art or just entertainment look-forwarders (I just invented that word, I’m sorry), but here is summer, and for me summer has always had one meaning for me: lots and lots of reading. Lots of dead time to read volumes and pages of infinite books from different authors from all over the world. I mean, I just started myself in the past month, I finished three novels, including this and the earlier reviewed Vargas Llosa novel, and then there was ‘The Tunnel’ by Ernesto Sábato, an argentinian writer who died this year, shy of turning a 100 years old. And then there’s my favorite part of summer: Stephen King. I think he’s a marvelous storyteller and every summer I turn out one or two of his novels, and this year it seems it’ll be 3, because I’m already finishing ‘Bag of Bones’, that just recently had a TV incarnation that I wanted to see, so I needed to finish the novel first. But what am I talking about S. King when we shall be talking about a Nobel Prize Winner… well let me roll my eyes, oh you snarky little lumpy princess, I am saying this and saying it now: I prefer King to Llosa.
Now, what is this nonsense? What a shameless assestment! You dare to say that? You shall be banned from reading literature!… Are you gone? Are you done? Ok, now I shall not explain myself, but just talk about what makes me say that: unexperience and youth… the search of entertainment over enlightment, when it should be backwards when I’m this young… now again I’m just fooling you. What happens is that I have little time to read, and when I read something I don’t find engaging or entertaining enough, I take ages to finish it, so I always prefer what it is called an ‘easy read’… but don’t you judge me! Because I have a very eclectic taste, I don’t think what anyone calls an easy read an easy read… I mean, look at the Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer, sure they are light but… not an easy read, more like a painful read. Now, something like ‘Pedro Páramo’ is an engaging and even entertaining read, as entertaining is to solve a puzzle or see a Lynch film. I always look for entertainment, and sometimes thinking is entertainment for me… but if I ever feel bored with your piece of work, may all hell go down on you, you just failed me as an artist/writer/whatever, and that’s what happens with King (over Llosa) he has never failed me, while Llosa has many long passages of boredom.
I promised this was going to be a short review of a short work, but I got a bit sidetracked on the issue of King and such, specially if I wrote this review a week ago (when I actually was supposed to) I wouldn’t be talking about King, and just be talking about this 60 page long (on my edition) novella (or maybe it’s just a long short story?) called ‘The Cubs’ (the original is ‘Los Cachorros’, an accurate translation, specially when cachorros is usually the word used for baby animals, which I think cubs is). But the fact is that one of the main reasons why the review of ‘The Green House’ was so delayed (besides my loss of the book itself), was that it took me about 5 months to get through the first half of the book, so that’s when you know a bore or even a stylistic heavy approach has been taken, with obscurity over the understanding of the plot itself. Now, we get this novella, released on its own in spanish, and later paired with the first short story book we reviewed here (‘The Leaders’) later grouped in the english volume ‘The Cubs and Other Stories’, or the more famous spanish volume ‘Los Jefes y los Cachorros’ (translated as ‘The Chiefs and the Cubs’ or ‘The Leaders and the Cubs’), so that’s the way to go if you find yourself liking the plot I’m going to detail here.
So, this is a story of growing up in Perú, and here you find Llosa at his most peruvian in his bibliography so far, with a group of friends that accept the new guy in their pack of reckless children (that start drinking and smoking at a very very young age), because he is a rich boy and can buy many of the things that his friends just dream to have. The surname of this new boy is Cuéllar, but he quickly gets in real trouble at school when he gets bitten by the school’s dog and no one can stop it. His family is outraged, but he seems unharmed at first sight, it is slowly revealed that his penis was cut off by the dog, and as kids are cruel, they start to call him ‘Dick’ Cuellar, and Dick not as in Richard or ‘Dickard’, but as in dick/penis… ok, maybe the accurate translation is even worse (they call him ‘Pichulita Cuéllar’, that should be ‘Little Dick Cuéllar’, but heck, I’m not writing ‘little dick’ while I can still write ‘dick’), and with time they just call him ‘Dick’, and so at first he becomes enraged by it, but with time he accepts it as a new name of his. And that’s the story… ok, not really, but the thing is that we follow ‘Dick’ and his friends as they grow up, start to get interest in girls, start to dance and even fall in love with them, we even get a chance to see them married in the later chapters of the novella (this novella has six chapters that fly by in thing of seconds), but the thing is that the difference between ‘Dick’ and the rest is that he remains single the whole time… for the obvious reasons, but he is so tough headed throught the whole stretch of the plot, that it feels as if his cowardice of being ‘caught’ with less than the half of his penis, even if he doesn’t ever get a couple… and the thing is that… is really sex the only thing you think of when you get yourself a girlfriend? Listen to me here… a Girlfriend, not picking up some girl at a club, I mean a couple, someone to be with at day and night. Maybe that’s what I didn’t like about the book at the end: it all comes down to a guy with no dick.
No disrispect here, you can make great things with a guy with no penis, it could be a complex tale about manhood and what else, but Llosa waters it down to a story about sex and not much else. Shame, really. But still I have one thing to say about this, and I hope I don’t grow to hate my stance: I liked the quick style he managed here. Vargas Llosa maintains some kind of personal monologue mixed with a narration style that is never really focuses on any point of view, for a moment it seems like a personal tale from one of the friends, and then the narrator treats as if the writer was part of the group of friends, for moments it goes omniscient, but then goes back to the stream of consciousness that he mastered in his previous novel, but here comes fresh and like a bolt of energy on the reader, making it finish it in a really short time (less than an hour for me). While the plot still lacks cohesion and a real projection on what could’ve been, the style is straightforward and maintained throughout the whole book, it feels as a real unity, and the thing I’m most grateful of: it makes sense, you grow and you know the characters, you never lose track of what’s going on, and in comparison with ‘The Green House’, the style is perfected, here is a joy to see a language and a narrator that go together with a adecuate plot that talks about the youth in Peruvian lands, specially when you think that kids usually talk very fast and make little sense and jump from subject to subject.
It’s a flawed tale, but with great style. Do I recommend it? If you liked the plot well enough, you might as well read it, it’s entertaining and energetic. It also serves a purpose as a first time Llosa endeavour: it’s short and gives you the best of the Llosa writing style until now, so it’s recommended. Now I have some bad news for you. I’m so sorry to dissapoint, but the next novel ‘Conversation in the Cathedral’ was lost by my dad (we had it), so I’ll have to borrow it from the library, and it’s a long read (in terms of pages), so I guess that it will be a long time before we see our faces and words again. Sorry.
Previous: ‘The Green House’
Next: ‘Conversation in the Cathedral’