Monday, June 05, 2006

Really Absurd?

I first read Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez about 15 years ago and upon finishing, immediately added it to my list of favorite books. At the time, I was a 21-year-old woman with a freshly purchased literature degree flitting about, falling in love, sometimes. I'd call myself then a woman romanced by romance, though not too stupidly, and, mostly naive to the inner workings of love and happiness and marriage and life. I thought it was kind of sweet how Florentino waited "fifty-one years, nine months, and four days" for Juvenal Urbino, Fermina's husband, to die so that he could again pursue her.

But this time through I am different--10 years of marriage (this Thursday) and almost three children into it different. The young, flighty, excited woman of before is a present reader, but much more critical. The characters, then, not so sweet, and my sympathies fewer. And as I read I find myself looking not for romance, but for absurdity--if to mock it, briefly and to laugh. For example, one of my favorite parts 150 pages into the reread is the part where Florentino Ariza unsuspectingly makes a whore of the Widow Nazaret (close to Nazareth?). It is strangely absurd and absurdly believable that Florentino, who wants desperately to give his love to Fermina and only Fermina, tries to teach this pent up woman how to fornicate.

"With all his perseverance, he tried to teach her the tricks he had seen others perform through the peepholes in the transient hotel, along with the theoretical formulations preached by Lotario Thugut on his nights of debauchery...The lessons were to no avail. The truth is that she was a fearless apprentice but lacked all talent for guided fornication. She never understood the charm of serenity in bed, never had a moment of invention and her orgasms were inopportune and epidermic: an uninspired lay...Little by little, listening to her sleep, he pieced together the navigation chart of her dreams and sailed among the countless islands of her secret life. In this way he learned that she did not want to marry him, but did feel joined to his life because of her immense gratitude to him for having corrupted her. She often said to him: "'I adore you because you made me a whore.'"

This passage, the passionless but real but absurd relationship that Florentino and the widow have, Florentino's notebooks recording 622 of his "long-term liaisons," delight me in a way that is perhaps disturbing. And perhaps I should reflect on why and how I came to this rereading of one of my favorite books--this delight in the absurd, or, delight in the realness of the absurdity. But something that I've learned, maybe with time, is that sometimes in this age of supposed self reflection, it can be best not to analyze to the point of absurdity. There are things that do not need explaining--and for me--my delightfully absurd rereading of Love in the Time of Cholera is one of those things.

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