At my first impression I thought that this was going to be a fun book, a tale that contained giants, blind prostitutes, and conjoined twins playfully floating in a mysterious world in which “the sky is a huge sea of fresh water and we, instead of walking under it, walk on top of it,” (1). However, the world of implacable order is one inhabited by the devil and the devil’s mischief is full of gravity. The devil’s gravity is a weight against hope.
What is this story about? It is a novel that lacks a true protagonist, it is the story of two generations of peasants in a poor town. The protagonist is the village and its poverty of spirit. For in this implacable village all that one can hope to inherit is “the sorrow that remained: a silent absence of meaning falling on all gestures, an abyss negating the meaning of all words, a veil that canceled time.” (185).
Yes, this is a sad book, but it is a beautiful one.
This is a beautiful book because the language is enchanting. It is enchanting in its narrative voice. Peixoto builds upon aphoristic phrases such as “perhaps suffering is tossed by handfuls over the multitudes, with most of it falling on some people and little or none of it on others,” (25) through repetition, transferring the aphorism from the mind of one character to the mouth of another. The narratives transitions from first person to third person effortlessly through the use of short vignettes. The experiences and perceptions transition between husband and wife, cuckold and adulterer, brother and brother, father and still-born child. In these narrative transitions the author illuminates the loneliness that binds this village together, the common humanity that is indistinguishable and real.
There is a biblical feel to this story, with images that haunt my mind. I’ll say that despite the deep tragedy that pervades the novel, I will forever be enchanted in Peixoto’s ability to make beautiful the despicable act of suicide through the power of the written word:
“He jumped forward. His neck made a cracking sound of bones separating. He swung for a few moments until coming to a standstill, as still as the unstirring breeze. A sparrow that flitted about looked at him and saw his eyes emptied of hope, saw his hands heavy, and swooped up into the sky. [He] became smaller, smaller and when the sparrow looked down he from on high [he] was just the gnarled bough of an oak tree against a bloodred horizon.” (109)
That essence of becoming one with tree, yet only a small speck in the horizon viewed by a smaller still and nameless bird is what gives this book a timeless and biblical feel. The language is light and the actions are heavy. One’s sorrow bears the gravity of weight but is insignificant in the greater scheme of the ways of the world. It is a powerful book that will not digest well for all who consume it, but for those open to the beauty of its language await a a reward of savored taste.
And now on to something light for my next read after that.