It doesn’t happen everyday: a single book resulting in a new reading resolution. Even the idea of it is somehow misleading, isn’t it? Because in the life of a voracious reader, is it possible to isolate a single reading experience and claim it as the genesis of a change in reading habits?
I mean, would I even have been reading The Same City, had I not fallen in love with the writing of Timothy Findley and Margaret Atwood when I was a teenager? So, is the resolution really rooted in Luisgé Martín’s novella?
And, yet, it was while I was taking the bus home on a weekday afternoon, determined to finish reading The Same City, that I resolved to read more novellas.
Normally, I don’t need to take the bus in that leg of my journey; it’s only a few blocks further and I am content to travel on foot. But, the neighbourhood is under construction, and I can’t read while walking, even when I slow my pace. (Because of course I *do* read while walking much of time: don’t you?),
So I had to take the bus so that I could finish this story.
It certainly did not have an auspicious beginning.
“Almost all schools of psychology, from classic psychoanalysis through to Gestalt psychotherapy, concern themselves with that melancholic or despairing state of mind that usually rears its head in people approaching the halfway point in life, that state which in somewhat unscientific vernatcular we are in the habit of calling the ‘midlife crisis’. At approximately forty years old, human beings cast their minds back, recall the dreams they had when they were young, then take stock of their achievements since that time and the possibilities they still have of attaining the wonderful life they had imagined. The result is always distressing.”
The sentence is complex, multiple phrases with elaborations and modifiers, and all to introduce something as mundane as a ‘midlife crisis’?
But there is something strangely compelling about the reportage style (the translation from the Spanish is by Tomasz Dukanovich).
Readers quickly understand that they are hearing a man’s story, that he is not telling it himself but the telling is only one step removed; readers imagine that they re hearing a copy of the story as it has been told to the narrator.
Letters, phone calls and conversations: readers have it all laid out for them. The information is shared chronologically, for the most part, although one has the sense that the original listener has ordered it for readers, as if part of the listener’s process of coming to an understanding as well.
And, throughout, there is an awareness that something has happened which has given the original listener occasion to believe that there is something worthwhile about the tale, that it deserves another layer of narration and, furthermore, another layer of listeners (readers).
“The story of Brandon Moy is even more exceptional; in his case there had been no clear threat or dangerous situation, just an indeterminate sadness. At forty, or at other less rocky ages, I had felt, as does almost everyone, a desire to completely change my life, to leave Madrid for a distant, faraway city, to find a new job where I could start to learn different things, or to separate myself from my circle of dependable friends, because although I loved them, they shackled me to tarnished, tiresome customs.”
There is something exceptional about Brandon Moy’s story, but that’s not understood for quite some time. The foundation of the novella is what he represents in a more universal sense.
Yet the details (places, times, frequencies, routes, values, etc.) decorate the story at a suprising rate given the work is only 133 pages long (with generous margins, too). Readers might recall the list of possessions in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”. Just as they are meant to accumulate for readers, to portray a sense of weight on a soldier’s back, here the details collect and collide to remind us that our daily lives are stuffed with minutiae, which can also add an unexpected burden to our ordinary existence.
Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like, in a moment of strain and stress, to take the back door and leave it all behind. Which is the temptation which Brandon Moy faces in this seductive story.
But, it’s true, what I said before, that it’s disingenuous to claim that one can trace the influence of a certain book, against the backdrop of a lifetime’s worth of reading.
Because I might not even have invited The Same City onto my reading stack, had I not had such a great reading experience with other novellas periodically over the years (most recently, David Hull’s The Man Who Remembered the Moon).
But The Same City has caught my eye. It’s not a wandering eye, but it is a curious one. And here I am, a midlife-reader. Perhaps I’m just looking for a quick fling on the page. Or, perhaps works like Luisgé Martín’s novella are worth settling down with on a more permanent basis.