Review of A
Forbidden Passion, by Cristina Peri Rossi
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/30/05
Uruguayan expatriate Cristina Peri Rossiís short stories in A Forbidden Passion are, in a sense, typical of Latin American writers, in that they are political and try to dabble in magical realism. They are parables rather than modern narratives of realistic characters. Yet, although I am nor enamored of the writing of either Gabriel Garcia Marquez nor Jorge Luis Borges, her writing does not even really attempt the indulgent effusiveness of their styles. Instead, her work is rather gloomy and dull. Its saving grace, as it is, is that her writing is pithy- real short. I doubt id the twenty Ďstoriesí within span thirty thousand words.
A more apt analogy would be to call her a modernist fabulist in the Hand Christian Andersen mode. Yet, there is none of the joy and whimsy of an Andersen tale. Her characters are hollow, drawn, lifeless beings, that circumambulate their demesnes with all the vivacity of a George Romero zombie. Things that seem are not always so, and yet, the tales are not quite allegorical either. There is the sense that Rossi never really had a handle on exactly what she wanted to accomplish with this book or these tales. Her characters lack depth, and whole stories seem to be constructed to exhort a rather hollow, monodimensional point of view. Yet, neither do these tales descend into mere screeding. They are, ultimately, about little, and are nor deftly constructed. They are impassioned with impassion. They wonít tire nor offend, but neither will they stick in the memory long after reading, and no one will want to go back to reread them. They are fleeting fancies, and I do not believe this is the fault of translator Mary Jane Treacy.
Whereas Borges will try to trick a reader with his often pointless exercises, Rossi will not even offer that much as a bone. The longest tale, The Trip, is probably the most Borgesian, about a fictive city and a trip there. Yet, as this rather tepid idea was already done by Borges, and better, why assay something already tackled, especially id unable to improve on it? While Rossi tries to stake out a place in Borgesian territory her wordplay is not as alluring, her theories not as coherent, and her notions of psychological reality amount to little, by contrast. And there is no absurdism nor surrealism that lightens the mood, nor even attempts to. The book is published by Cleis Press, a press devoted to radical lesbian writers, although, thankfully that fact is not shoved down the face of the reader in the work, yet one senses that the only reason for the translation is due to this non-evident fact in her work.
One might think this is also tinged with Borgesian irony yet it simply lays there. Here is the end of the tale Atlas, in which the Olympian heroís dilemma of aging is neither humorous nor deep:
Now that his health is declining (he is a mortal being just like everyone else), he wonders who will be called upon to replace him. He has no descendants and, anyway, he doesnít think his is a hereditary position. Nor does he think that the selection should depend upon any kind of social, intellectual or political merit. He knows that itís a burdensome, thankless and badly paid job- and the only one that canít be turned down. He doesnít know who is predecessors were and possibly he will be forbidden to meet his successor. But, perhaps due to his age, he remembers with special affection the little boy who one day began to hold the world on his shoulders. He doesnít pass any judgment on those men and women who, who exempted from his task, turn to other employment.
What really bothers him is not going to the movies.
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