Rafael Pérez Gay - The Way to Juarez
The narrator, a writer, struggles to scribble these images and ideas, and while doing so, struggles with the form of writing itself. The narrative is diaphonous, strange, a mix of imagery, biography, description, eulogy. The father is forgotten after the first half of the story when Juarez becomes prominent – but at the same time his spy stories take centre stage, and the narrator as a communicating identity recedes. At first we were privy to the intimate thoughts of the narrator as he watches his father die, but then the story shifts, and a good section of it involves an impartial narrator.
On one mission my father found himself entangled in a string of lies and was finally betrayed in Madrid. Federal agents bought with dirty money forced him right to the edge of the abyss. The charge was extremely serious: according to the traitors, my father planned to bring a shipment of drugs into Spain. He was arrested at Barajas airport, accused of collaborating with Colombian drug lords. Since he was working undercover as a federal officer, the national authorities didn’t recognize him as a secret agent and accused him of being a member of the cartel that had tried to introduce 1,500 kilograms of pure cocaine into Spanish territory.
Drugs tie the story together. In each of the sections, and no matter how amorphous the narrative becomes, drugs are mentioned, and the number “1,500” returns again and again. Destruction, too, or at the very least the results of destruction (ruin, decay, death, rubble) are everywhere. The narrator doesn't explicitly link the two, but the stylistic links are there.
It's curious to note that just as the father seems to shift from lucid to incoherent, the narrator seems to shift from concrete and data focused, to ephemeral and vague. After a particularly violently recalled dream, the narrator becomes quite clinical and scientific, noting about his father that;
The results of the serum electrolytes test revealed no alteration in the level of sodium, potassium, magnesium or calcium, abnormal levels of which are the usual cause of delirious thoughts. The tomography revealed a brain free of tumors or hematoma. The neurologist attributed my father’s mental disorder to a psychotic depression which had originated many months before in a well of sadness. If I understood correctly, the origin of delirium is unknown. It can be sparked off by a heart condition, an attack of bronchitis or an episode of pain which plunges the sufferer into an endless dream. Tucked within the folds of each delirium wait fleeting moments of happiness and sorrow, pure fantasy and the red-hot iron of reality, a sweet memory or an unbearable nightmare. This was the dream prison that my father had entered to serve the sentence of his ninety years of age.
And then the story flits away again, becoming intangible as the tone of the story shifts. Phrases such as “delirium”, “tramua”, “the loneliness of Man”, “hidden eroticism” come to the fore – phrases without concrete meaning, at least in the way they are used.
The Way to Juarez is, I think, a meditation on art as a communicative device, as seen through the prism of a man whose father is dying, a city dying of drug violence, a world killing itself with cocaine, a writer struggling to convey anything at all in his writing, and a reality fracturing under the impact of all these things. Pérez Gay's concern seems to be, not to describe the difficulty of arts, its interpretation and its use, but to show it, which is to say, the story itself is the difficulty of art and how to convey one person's reality to another.
To wish for an answer to the question: was the father really a spy? Or: Is the father dying, or is the son perhaps the person dying and hallucinating? Or: Is El Chiquilín really a drug dealer? - All this misses the point. Pérez Gay references Eugene Ionesco quite explicitly a number of times and, though he denigrates the concept of the absurd as a literary device, it is clear here that he is using it to convey an over-arching meaning from a serious of vignettes which, taken on their own, have little meaning in themselves. The summation of The Way to Juarez is itself the answer – as a collection of thematically interlocked pieces the story becomes an exercise in searching for meaning in the meaningless, or attempting to impress order upon what is naturally chaotic.
Seizing Cervantes by Antônio Xerxenesky is a short story from Words Without Borders' January 2012 edition, Apocalypse issue. All of the work reviewed is freely available online.
Words Without Borders review series:
---May 2011: Writing From Afghanistan
---January 2011: The Work Force
---October 2010: Beyond Borges: Argentina Now
---August 2010: Writing From Hungary
Index of short stories under review