Bogdan Suceavă – Our Years of Beauty
Beer. Summer. Teenage years. Games. Competitions. Music. Cigarettes. Girls. Boys. Sex. Heat. Lust. Our Years of Beauty by Romanian author Bogdan Suceavă is saturated with the long lazy afternoons of summer when it was all at your feet and you were just too damned drunk and satisfied to reach out and grasp it.
We lay on our towels, a host of young bodies baking in the sun and listening to Radio Vacation Costineşti. In those years, the best thing coming from the loudspeakers was the announcer's voice, the pace, the jokes. It was like Radio Free Europe for us, much better than the choral music festival on Romania One. The beers got warm, the cigarettes burned our throats. I held a solar-heated bottle in my hand and watched a cloud shaped like a tube. I buried the radio in the sand.
The key to the stories lies in its tone. The wistful opening of, “In those years...”, sets the scene, providing an indication that we aren't in there here and now but in the past, the teenage past, the summer past, which means the nostalgic past, a past whose broad strokes are the same, but the details – my, they have changed over the years. Perhaps in this retelling you now get the girl, or perhaps you don't. Perhaps in that retelling you win the contest, or perhaps not. It was all so long ago, and who can remember? You, of course, but the details are fuzzy and that's a big part of what's so nice about it.
The narrator is our surrogate, largely a spectator in the story, which revolves around his friend, who has fallen for that year's beauty queen, who looked “more like a 1950's starlet than one of our cardboard celebrities”. The best way to win the heart of a beauty queen (or at least her attention), we learn, is via a headstanding competition, which begins well and ends poorly. The narrator's friend is a queer fellow, all bravado and messed up internal organs. Yes:
...some routine follow-ups for a hormone imbalance revealed that his entire body was put together ass-backwards. His liver was on the left, he had three kidneys, one jammed in sideways, and his appendix was the size of a lung. Furthermore, one of his arteries had split into a hundred tiny tubes, wrapped around his heart like a spider web.
Upon discovering his odd anatomy, the narrator's friend had attempted to concoct an odd potion, curious to determine whether he had strange and special powers to go along with the confusion inside his body. He is certain he can win the love of the beauty queen, his certainty stemming from the easy arrogance of a youth who sees himself as different and has confused that with important and special. But he's a likeable fellow, pleasant and friendly, and there's no malice in him. Suceavă teases out the development of the friend, juxtaposing his oddities with the youthful, hopeful atmosphere of a beach holiday in Communist-era Romania.
A flotilla of marvelous commandos and vestal virgins held symbols of the sea. We scrambled for copies of sequence, a rag printed in Constanţa by the Communist Youth Union and the staff of a local paper, full of double entendres for us to catch, with our beardless wits and jejune consciences. The air was full of winking jokes, making us feel smarter than we were and strong enough for anything.
These touches are just that – touches – for the true hero of the day is the headstanding contest. Suceavă extends the contest to almost half the length of the story, enjoying the slightly absurd details of the narrator's friend as his body succumbs to the pressure of being upside down. It's all there, from the blood rushing to his head, to the sudden collapse when his body can't take the strain; Suceavă uses the narrative concentration upon the headstand as a springboard to comment upon his friend, the vagaries of teenage life in Romania, and the potpurri of old American popular culture that seemed to be everywhere.
Our Years of Beauty is funny, nostalgic, wistful, melancholy, and joyous. It remembers, and does so fondly. The story itself has that slight tinge of exaggeration about it to lend credibility as a remembered teenage adventure, and the end strikes a perfect chord of humour, goodwill, youthful expectation and invincibility, and fondness for all those memories. Suceavă remembers these times, and though they might never have been how the story describes, what of it? Our Years of Beauty captures the essence of the thing, which is so much more important than the dreary truth of a matter.
Our Years of Beauty by Bogdan Suceavă is a short story from Center for the Art of Translation publication, Two Lines - Volume XV: Strange Harbors
||Our Years of Beauty
||Two Lines - Volume XV: Strange Harbors.
Other stories from the Center for the Art of Translation publication, Two Lines - Volume XV: Strange Harbors include:
---Rey Rosa, Rodrigo - Poco-loco
---Schiff, Agur - There's Lots to See
Other titles by Bogdan Suceavă under review include:
---Can You Hear the Shape of a Drum?
---Daddy Wants TV Saturday Night
Index of short stories under review