Leonardo Valente’s D’s Cryogenics or a Manifesto for Lost Pleasures is a novel marked by introspection and intimacy. On the one hand, its narrator, D., shares their innermost thoughts, urges, dreams, and mistakes with astonishing candor. On the other, D. remains hard to pin down as a character, ever-shifting and changing their mind and resisting categorization. They use she pronouns on one page, then he on the other. Their six ex-husbands appear on the street in the flesh, then as ghostly characters on TV. Breaking literary and gender conventions, this is a novel about the trickiness of the physical body, the relationship between the self and narratives of the self, and the impossibility of capturing emotional truth. “To lay myself bare… is to make myself illegible,” D. writes.
Published in Brazil in 2021 to critical acclaim, D’s Cryogenics has also been published in Argentina, Uruguay, and Portugal. A theatrical monologue based on the book, performed by actress Tânia Alves, recently premiered at the Niterói Theater.
Leonardo Valente is the author of three other novels, including O Beijo da Pombagira, a finalist for the Rio Literature Prize, and Calote, winner of the Julia Lopes Prize. He is a professor of International Relations at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.
Bruna Dantas Lobato
From D’s Cryogenics or a Manifesto for Lost Pleasures
this book is the greatest of my infidelities.
i find myself dry and frigid like a leaf from an ancient tree in winter snow, dry from the cold i have to bear, in the abundance of all i have to offer. i really am happy and tired in times of droughts of the soul, in the season of dry romantic hypocrisy; i’m calm and overflowing with myself even in precious periods of disaffection; i’m cunning, mischievous, and feral in them, and i can see what that idiot never saw or pretended to never see. it’s in disaffection i can make myself a writer. oxalá all love will make me dry. wherever i am.
here i am constant night. i hang from a hook in the back of the closet and lock the door. once far from myself, i can sit down and write about what i’m not. and by writing about what i never was, i make myself understand what’s essential.
actually, i am jealousy. i just saw on TV someone i admire and i couldn’t bear it. i lost all desire to sleep, i got up with migraines and willing to be better than him. but better how? i don’t know. at everything, maybe. i just need to be. i have a great recipe that always puts me to sleep when i have insomnia triggered by jealousy and also this anger that consumes me from time to time. I take a few deep breaths and start an artificial dream, one of those you script before falling asleep. i imagine myself at the center of attention, in the most genuine and superior place of success, a great radiating object of admiration to all who ever crossed my path, even if briefly. the script stays the same for a few days, for as long as it works. i replace it with another equally narcissistic and grandiloquent one when the previous one loses its effect. i won’t reveal any details of these dreams, because i believe what i imagined won’t happen if i share them. “plans aren’t meant to be shared with anyone,” my mother always said. this idea that unspoken plans are the only ones that come to fruition is my inheritance. i won’t reveal any details because i need the hope that they will happen, if not to live then at least to sleep. i almost always fall asleep in the first few minutes of the story, so i don’t usually have an ending for them, only openings. my desires are nothing more than starts. but today, when i saw this familiar face on the TV on a timer set to power it off—i didn’t expect to see him, i just wanted to fall asleep to the sounds of the live audience—i couldn’t think of anything, lying in bed and facing the peeling wall of my bedroom, physically ready for the scripting process. his story was better than mine. that’s why i’m lying here, sleepy and restless, trying to fill pages of my purest personal pride disguised as venting, to finally sleep, empty of myself.
awake. that man on TV last night was never important in my life, but at that moment it felt like he could have been the most important of all. my husband, the one i never really had. i’d married five men and none. he was one of the five that never were, and i suspect he would have been better than the whole bunch of them together. and i still don’t know if by watching him on the screen i was trying to love him or get over him, kill him or surrender, admire him or conspire against him. i thought of the night before. i’m jealousy. i’ve never loved anyone, always competed for love. i never loved but i don’t remember a single time i didn’t completely give myself over. who says love and surrender have to be related? i read cells. some people read palms, others read letters, many prefer the Bible, but i read cells. they say it’s a gift. i’m a good observer of the macro just from looking at the micro. give me a word, just one, a tone of voice, and i can explain its whole existence. i can build a whole life of intentions and desires from a single smile or from his absence. i’m a translator and judge of other people’s particulars. i also cultivate macromolecules. knowing them, i made myself a good cook. some people rinse basmati rice at least three times before cooking it because that’s what they’ve been taught, and because otherwise it’ll get chunky and sticky like sushi rice. i don’t. i rinse it because i see the macromolecules of starch come out of each grain in the water with the movements of my wooden spoon. and as i see them, i make them, they become part of my modest collection. i see them without seeing them, the way i see my husbands’ souls. is that what i’m seeeing?
pardon my rudeness, i haven’t even introduced myself yet. i’m D. i believe this is more than enough information, considering all i intend to throw at you in the next pages that is infinitely more important than my social identity or what i do for a living. i make myself truly known when i’m alone in my free time, the rest of the time i’m just a standard-bearer for what isn’t mine, i am what i write and what overflows.
Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina based off a neighbor’s tragedy. Bibikov had a lover whose first name inspired the protagonist’s. after a few years, Bibikov left her for his children’s teacher, whom he planned to marry. A desperate Anna collected some of her things and for three days wandered through the fields, until she threw herself under a train. before that, however, she wrote Bibikov a note: “you are my murderer. you will be happy with her if murderers can be happy. if you want to see me, you can come and view my body on the rails at Yasenki.” after hearing the story, i asked myself: would i have it in me to throw myself in front of a train if i got cheated on? the answer came quickly, without a shadow of a doubt: no. but i would be capable of throwing whoever cheated on me in front of the train, with pleasure. this is me in the flesh.
every day a locomotive rips me apart, turns me into pulp, flesh, bone, and blood squashed between the infertile soil and the railway sleepers. there is no exact time. it’s usually at night, but it also happens in the morning. i pick myself up with a dustpan, carefully put myself in a wastebasket, and take myself home. there are always remains between the railway sleepers. each time, i fall asleep disfigured to wake up composed, never the same as i was the day before, to be run over again. and i admit: i’ve never thrown anyone in front of a train. i like to cook because i can observe chemical and physical metamorphoses in the food, imposed by extreme forces: cold and heat. my metamorphosis, however, caused by the intensity of the locomotive, is imposed by a more genuine and pure mechanical force, inescapable. cooking is the perfect act of substantiation, the most purified science in favor of life. i’ve prepared many a praiseworthy dish for friends, but no more. i’ve grown apart from them because of my husbands. i’ve grown apart from them because of myself. sometimes i exchange messages with these no-longer friends, we like some of each other’s things on social media, but we never eat together. and if we don’t eat together it’s because our ties aren’t the same anymore. affection lives around the table, so much so that it is from the table that we quickly remove those who are no longer wanted or who have disappointed us. the table reveals more intimacy than the bed. a stranger might recognize the texture of my bedsheets or the density of my springy mattress within minutes of experiencing it, but they’d never be able to sit at my table before first becoming the object of my affection, a signifier with many signifieds in my relationships, and that takes time. that sleepless night when i saw my husband on TV, i made pasta after i fell asleep. i boiled water, selected the thin Italian spaghetti and delicately put it in the pot. i don’t add olive oil to my water, like many boast of doing. olive oil in the water is the post-truth of those who think they know how to cook. i have many rules around the term post-truth, but i think it’s the perfect expression for this need to use olive oil in order to have nicely cooked pasta. i followed the whole process standing by the stove. for a few minutes, i felt the steam reach my face, until i sovereignly decided it was ready, because i’m the master of my own pasta. i strained the spaghetti and put it on a plate at the dining table, next to a glass of red wine and in front of the TV, another TV, not the one in the bedroom, but one i actually have and that didn’t show that familiar face anymore. i ate the way i thought i should eat, and that represented my day, my night, my constant sleeplessness, my jealousy, and my desire to make pasta: with no sauce. i have yet to consult an online dream dictionary to see what this meant.
i have affective immune deficiency syndrome, i contracted it from my second husband. he didn’t develop the disease though he has the virus, since he was stronger than me, and as soon as we separated—as soon as he separated from me—i started to feel the symptoms. they say this disease has no cure, in fact, experts differ on its origin, it seems some people remain immune to it, even after they’ve already been infected by the virus, while others develop the most aggressive form without even having had contact with the microorganism, a predisposition and post-decision thing, some studies say. but my case is not his fault, and i don’t need tests to prove it, if my thesis were refuted scientifically, i would lose the justifying elements of my anger and the desire for everything to go wrong forever in your life; i would have to come up with other stories to justify the huge investment i have in bad omens, the opposite of hope, in the confirmation of the infamy fate made me the victim of, not me. we’ve been separated for a decade, and since the day i last saw him when he was still my husband, we’ve only exchanged quick, disconcerted hellos, almost like strangers, on three occasions; three other times he passed me on the street, but pretended not to see me; two more he spotted me from the middle of the block and crossed the street. and that’s it. an estranged husband and a strange husband, a stranger with an unexplored heart, but whose skin i understand by the coordinates, whose geography i fully know. i have no reason to doubt my thesis, that i was infected by him, as i remember exactly the moment of contagion, right at the beginning of our relationship. he was walking down the street on his way to our fourth date, two weeks after the first and after much insistence from him, who spoke of marriage from the very beginning. on the way, i felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket, it was a text message from him: “i had a great time last night, kisses.” we hadn’t had a last night. I arrived with the full intention of not going on a fifth date with him, i heard from his own mouth that for some reason an old message had been sent to my phone. i had all the empirical and rational arguments to tear down his excuse, but i ignored them. I believed him for the seven years we were together, i mistrusted him for the seven years i cheated on him and he cheated on me. that damn message had infected me. my predisposition to this syndrome, however, i inherited from my first husband.
Translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato