Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pacazo, eventually (Part 1)

These last couple weeks have been a time of interviews, a time of sleeping on a dark red recliner, a time of holding the ladder while my youngest brother paints the house, a time of eating our middle brother's maple salmon (delicious). It has been a time of watching most of The Venture Brothers over again. It has been a time of reading, for the first time in seven years, only exactly what I want to read.

This began with catching up on my purchases from the last several months. I had Brian Evenson's Fugue State, so I read that. Perhaps another blog post for that one (feels hard to say anything after Blake Butler blogged every story individually). Then I read the second half of Blake Butler's There Is No Year. I thought I might read Robert Lopez's Asunder next (it has an excerpt from my review of his excellent Kamby Bolongo Mean River in it!) but I didn't feel quite like a short story collection so soon after the Evenson and I saw my brother had Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire. Honestly Moore is slightly tough going, a modular novel with a series of first-person narrators. The two I've read so far have felt a little stiff, not entirely successful, but I'm planning to return and digest further.

But because Voice of the Fire hasn't been reaching me quite the way I wanted, I decided to go ahead and let myself buy a new book. I had wanted for months to read Roy Kesey's Pacazo, about which I knew almost nothing: I liked the cover, the book looked ambitious (i.e., thick), Dzanc was its publisher, and it had been reviewed well (I had not actually read the reviews). That was cause enough for me to pick it up. (Well, cause enough to put it on my Kindle and then pick that up.)

I'm enjoying it! It's the sort of absorbing, richly textured experience I was hoping for right now. I wanted a novel to live with for a while and we are happily living together -- as of this moment, I've read about 60%, both in hour-long sittings and brief snatches. I feel like I know the characters and at the same time I feel like they could do nearly anything at any moment, like they are always capable of surprising me, and this is a good way to feel about a cast of characters.

I'd had some sense of the premise -- there was mention on the Amazon page, before I reminded myself to stop reading reviews, of the protagonist-narrator's wife, her brutal murder, his declining sanity as a result thereof. It starts out looking very much like a revenge novel, a category in which I have become more interested over the last several years. The protagonist is mourning his wife, and though he has imperfect information (a vague memory of her probable kidnapper's face, the first letter and last numbers of his taxi's license plate) he plans to kill the man on sight, even as he realizes he will never be sure that he's killed the right man. He's always searching, at least through the corner of his eye, for this man. He watches taxis. He returns to the place where her body was found again and again, picking up any scrap of paper or weirdly bent branch that might provide a clue. He knows the futility. He does it anyway.

There's terrific tension at all times, even (sometimes especially) when things seem calm, because you're sure that at any minute he'll see what he thinks is the right man and break his neck. Occasionally things do seem to head in that direction, with his friend Reynaldo pulling him back from the brink each time.

Pacazo also derives a lot of energy from its setting of Peru. Here I might resort to citing the author's biography if I cared -- probably he has spent some time abroad, but whether or not the novel is authentic it is certainly persuasive, authoritative, interesting. The characters are currently surviving El Niño, and this is fascinating. I find it also fascinating when they eat and argue about Peruvian cuisine, when I glimpse the workings of the economy, of the government. 

The narrator is a historian (or something of that nature) who originally came to Peru to complete his dissertation, and so his narration is initially interrupted frequently by reflection on stories of the region's past. There is another kind of energy in this, in the way he transitions without warning, in the quiet math required to link present action to past. His mind seems to quiet as the novel progresses, and this tendency seems to weaken. Other things demand his attention.

One surprising thing about the way Pacazo has progressed is that it seems to be more a narrative of healing than one of revenge, at least at this point. I have little doubt that his need to murder the taxista will assert dominance again before the novel is over, but I'm no longer entirely certain he'll kill anyone at all. His self-destructive streak has been fading, little by little. I don't know where it's all going. I'll let you know how I feel when I've finished the novel. The way I generally write things is that everything gets progressively worse, even as they sometimes seem to get better. This is also the way my favorite stories tend to work. So far, at least, Pacazo is doing something else -- and I'm excited to see how it turns out.

There are other pleasures to discuss as well. The protagonist's very-young daughter has been especially fun to read about. Maybe I'll discuss her more next time.

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