Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo Editora. 2023. 236 pages.
Every book of fiction puts forward—sometimes deliberately on the author’s part, sometimes unconsciously—a conception of literature. Interiores (Beatriz Viterbo, 2023), the second book of stories by Juan Vitulli, seems to affirm that literature is, above all, more than the story told. What matters to Vitulli is the presentation of a system of symbols anchored in the narration, through which other, apparently hidden worlds might echo. Interiores even suggests that the quality of literature, its value, always lies beyond what is told, perhaps in the interstices, in that which escapes understanding and absolute comprehension.
The book is made up of nine long stories. While they are not organized into sections, the central placement of the titular story—the fifth of nine—is significant; this text precisely synthesizes the thematic and formal traits revealed by the rest. In this regard, this is no mere set of random stories; rather, it is a story sequence, with each text making contact with the others through different points. That being said, it can be claimed that Vitulli’s characters share, among other things, the dilemma of language, the constant search for meaning, perplexity, and perpetual movement through diverse geographies.
The first group is made up of the following pieces: “Uccello,” “Tres versiones de Eliseo Yáñez,” “El nadador de noviembre,” and “Ferocidad.” In each story, narrated in the first or third person, we meet characters consumed by routine, mostly migrants, young or old, whose lives change when they make contact with an incomprehensible, ungraspable reality. The second group is composed of “Tres botellas de aceite,” “A veces parecen tres” (a finalist in the 2021 “Manuel Musto” Municipal Fiction Contest), “Descolorido,” and “Fuga.” In this group, spaces and actions take precedence: the supermarket, a hold-up, a hospital, a visit, a bar.
We might also highlight metatextual elements in some of these stories. Such is the case in “Uccello,” whose description of galleries dug out by miners, near the center of a mountain, enters into dialogue with a certain Borgesian baggage already present in the Latin American imagination:
[…] we knew, down there, like the tentacles of a monstrous octopus, stretched dozens of pathways that others before us had dug, but that no one would ever dare explore again. Each tunnel ended in a circular chamber, accessible through a tiny opening also carved in the rock.
Of course, this dialogue is not limited to the mention of labyrinths or circular ruins; it refers, rather, to the uncertain and very human pursuits they represent. Along these lines, “Uccello” is perhaps the story that most appeals to the symbolic. Reading it, we come to understand that the mountain is not a geographic entity but rather life itself, with all its bifurcations and dramas. The search for a precious metal—described as having the violet color of dead bodies—besides representing typical capitalist avarice, shows the senselessness of certain human actions whose only endgame is death.
In the case of “Tres versiones de Eliseo Yáñez,” the main character is a civil engineer who emigrated years earlier and is now settled in. He goes on a trip to supervise work on bridges in the coastal United States. This character is just as eaten up by routine as the miners of the previous story. We read: “Three decades went by, following the predictable path of life in northern Indiana.” But, all of a sudden, his life breaks down: “something started to trouble him, to exert an unknown influence over him.” The figure of the bridge, this element that joins one extreme to another, stands out in this story; the main character, suddenly overcome by some force, decides to remove a piece and forever alter its balance.
“THE BOOK SHOWS US A SMALL TOWN, ALL THAT WHICH IS ISOLATED FROM THE METROPOLIS, ALL THAT WHICH, IN APPEARANCE, HAS BEEN DEVOURED BY ROUTINE”
Another point of interest is how, given the phonetic impossibility of being called by his Spanish surname, Eliseo enjoys being called “Mr. E.” The resonance of this “mystery” foreshadows his progressive transformation into a subject who alters his routines and physical appearance, and who, above all, starts to see the world differently: “to see silver threads in almost everything he touches.” With this story, Vitulli delves fully into a concern prefigured in the preceding story: the author suggests precisely that we “see the world another way.”
“El nadador en noviembre” tells the story of Carla and her father, an unusual, eccentric man who enjoys bathing on a deserted beach in the middle of winter, amid the ice. We see no specific reason for this attitude on his part, but the relationship between the two is still woven around this activity. The tenderness of certain passages here, in contact with this young feminine character, stands in contrast to other stories presenting the relationship between a father and son.
“Ferocidad” also explores a family relationship, but in other terms. We meet a nurse technician tasked with strenuous, grueling duties at a hospital, along with his young son. We learn how the routine in their small town, Gladstone, varies after the “ritual” of watching bears feed on salmon before hibernating. Progressively, the story addresses the degradation of both animals and humans: the former go blind, lose their skin, and are deprived of body parts, while the latter wish, almost until the end, only to hunt them or to violently celebrate their physical decline: “They had to be up to scratch with the ferocity we all expected from them.” The main character, the father—a migrant who had to make a place for himself in this town—laments these occurrences. His son—who was born there and remembers nothing but living within this space—celebrates the rage, the ferocity that has taken power over everyone.
For its part, the centrality of “Interiores” represents the conjunction of all these elements. This text tells the story of a migrant torn between his native language (Spanish) and the language he must learn, which is for him, even after many years, “a hard enigma to solve.” The first part of the story presents the character’s routine: his movements through a city that never truly becomes his own. The appearance of Darío—a man who, along with his wife, seeks to gather his testimony—brings about a shift in the narration.
In this story, Vitulli’s prose reaches new aesthetic heights. The author presents praiseworthy technical variety, including many varied resources. One example is an English film that shows the drama of an Indian immigrant, in which we recognize our main character and, above all, the testimony he offers, thus clarifying the obscurity of his origins. “Interiores” highlights the difference between “the outside world,” to which the migrant always belongs, never adapting even when he established specific routines, and “the inside world.” In a final journey through the city in Darío’s car, on the way from the shelter where he works to the little room where he lives, the character finally sees with a definitive perspective, for the first time, the city where he has been trying to settle: “[…] The interiors are very beautiful, and you can feel the contrast with the cold outside, but there is also something that doesn’t draw him to these places that seem outside of time, the places they are passing by now on the streets of Dayton.”
That said, on the search for this origin point where the character might feel comfortable, truly established, Vitulli turns to literary tradition, to a subtle geography. He draws a direct connection, for example, with Juan Carlos Onetti, an author who constantly echoes through his pages: “Valerie smiles immediately when she hears the name, feeling a little deceived, but at the same time like she’s part of a larger story, one in the process of being written since Salto or perhaps since Santa María.”
In Interiores, even when there is no strictly fixed location, it is possible to ascertain a minimal anecdote that extends, migrates, and is universalized. The book shows us a small town, all that which is isolated from the metropolis, all that which, in appearance, has been devoured by routine; but, when we look closely—with a magnifying glass—it really hides another thousand universes. Juan Vitulli has written a book that takes its place, deservingly, in a larger literary story.