Yuri Herrera – The Heart's Secret Moves
The key to understanding Yuri Herrera's short story, The Heart's Secret Moves (trans. Thomas Bunstead) comes from the very first sentence, and is plain as day. We are to read, the sentence announces, a tale of enlightenment. The word implies insight coupled with reason, denoting an understanding that has come from the intellect as well as experience. And yet, the rest of the story involves a brutish luchador (wrestler or fighter) who, drunk from his weekly bouts in a makeshift ring, turns to the more serious excitement of murder. Specifically: revenge.
Where, then, the enlightenment? For Pedro – known as The Heart while fighting – is simply an ordinary, even gross, man outside of the matches. He lives in a hovel with his girlfriend, Marina, and her father, a sneering drunk. He works as unskilled labour and hates his boss. He is, in short, exactly the kind of brute who would enjoy fighting against random strangers for money. But why, then, murder?
Because murder makes Pedro The Heart in truth, and not just in the ring. Murder makes him clearly, demonstrably, more powerful than the person he has killed. A boss is only a boss because he has more money and influence than you – but you can take that away by killing him. A policeman has a gun and the power of his badge – but you can take that away by snapping his neck. Pedro, not once horrified by his actions, instead revels in them, savours them:
His lungs were bursting, his arms almost floating; he was seeing the world through another lens, as if until then everything had been out of focus and now, suddenly, he held men and all manner of things in the palm of his hand. It became clear that his lucha libre moves weren’t just useful for playing out fake dramas in the ring, but in real life too. So many things made him want to piledrive them, so many lowlifes, he now saw, could do with a decent body press. He was The Heart. And he was strong.
Indeed, by killing the people he considers “bad”, he is even able to morally justify his actions. Unlike Dostoevsky's Raskalnikov, however, there is no existential guilt associated with his violence. Instead: justification. Instead: retribution. Instead: salvation. Pedro's – The Heart's – red fighting mask even allows him to flirt with the idea that he might just be a superhero, his acts of murder tasks for him alone to accomplish.
Herrera elects to portray all of The Heart's victims as scum, genuinely bad people who, though they may not deserve to be killed and their body dumped, certainly should be arrested or punished for their criminal and immoral activities. The Heart is not interested in killing anyone, only those people who, in his eyes (and, he believes, the eyes of society) deserve to be killed.
No, they won’t be the last: filthy old Soco, giving out loans at eighty percent and then repossessing everyone’s furniture; the kids with their flashy cars who only came down to the neighborhood to make trouble; and that guy who’d taken Pedro’s father-in-law’s repair shop off him, he’d deal with him too—maybe that would wipe away the hate-filled look the old man tried to conceal beneath that humble smile… A headscissors and a crucifix for each and every one.
We should never forget that this story of murder, confusion regarding the protagonist's identity as Pedro or The Heart, and revenge, begins with the narrator declaiming that this story is about enlightenment. Pedro becomes – at least, he believes it is so – enlightened following his murders. He feels more fondly toward his girlfriend and even, for a while at least, his girlfriend's disapproving father. He feels more confident as a man, more just and true, and he knows that now he has found a purpose. This is not just a story of violence, but also one of understanding.
Herrera's narrator is clearest and separate from the protagonist during this first sentence. After that, the narration comes very close to the protagonist, staying always with him, luxuriating over his emotions and following every punch and headlock. As the story progresses the narrator takes on the slangy mannerisms of the protagonist, and starts to adopt the direct speech patterns and thoughts of Pedro. This effect serves to sever us from the initial statement, placing it in greater contrast with what comes later. By the end, as the police swoop in on Pedro and The Heart's secret life seems to be over, the narrator has become subsumed inside the protagonist, and we are to understand that it is the end of both.
We the readers are not expected to share in Pedro's enlightenment, though we are expected to understand how the proceedings could be, for Pedro, enlightening. And in this Herrera is successful. Odd to say for a short story, but toward the end it seems that the piece would have benefited from being longer, that allowing Pedro to more fully become himself would have made the story greater still. It's a difficult balancing act, and one where I think the writer erred on the side of caution. Pedro's character remains a shade too undeveloped to properly justify the striking opening, which is shame.
The Heart's Secret Moves by Yuri Herrera is a short story from Words Without Borders' March 2012 edition, The Mexican Drug War issue. All of the work reviewed is freely available online.
Full disclosure: I assisted in a minor way with funding this issue via Kickstarter. I did not, however, have any involvement with the issue beyond that.
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