¿Te gusta el látex, cielo?. Nadia Villafuerte. Mexico City: Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro. 2008. 152 pages.
Review originally published in Revista de la Universidad de México No. 72 (2010)
The Value of Risk
Neither the “barbarians of the north” nor the children or stepchildren of the so-called “crack” generation. These two nomenclatural extremes were devised from the outside to facilitate entomological criticism. They’re useful classifications for the distracted, globalist gaze. But that’s not what it’s about. Or, at least, that’s not all it’s about.
Here we see a Mexico that is both different and pleasantly recognizable, a plural Mexico in a woman’s literature that cannot—and should not—be circumscribed as “feminine.” Nadia Villafuerte constructs a realistic world, never fantastic, whose sense of wonder comes from the detonation of quotidian beauty and horror.
There are ten stories in total.
The geography is varied, from the deep Mexico of the southern border to the virtuality of the all-encompassing “global village,” but I should clarify that the value of the narrative is not determined by questions of location or geography. The text’s value comes instead from the intimacy of its execution, the original formulation of its variability, the realized bias of its characters, the credibility of the literary document as opposed to its functional purpose, and its anti-aesthetic moments, its credibility as a testament to real events.
The main concern in this short story collection is the writing itself. Its responses are delivered through the coherent structure of an aesthetic proposal that goes beyond the anecdotal and the folkloric.
Nadia Villafuerte works along the line between history and sensibility. Something about her style of storytelling, her original use of language, frees this young author from the weight of tradition: this is evident from the collection’s title, posed as a question (along the same lines as Carver, even if Villafuerte’s title is not a tribute) to the influence of the English language and the imprecise, inescapable borderline. She writes from the ubiquitous border, which, in the present age of universal communication, blurs and erodes the simplistic schemes of the global village, identity, and physical barriers until attaining that decided selfhood that can be capably, lovingly expressed by “being one’s own and Mexican in the third millennium.”
“Flores rojas” [Red flowers], the story that opens the collection, is a text written in a universal climate. Its use of the third person is a trap in service of the reader’s progressive involvement in an absolutely unique, nontransferable climate. Daring, intuition, and wisdom are all accounted for. The construction of characters and the imaginative impulse are at the service of exemplary literary discipline. The story functions as an implacable mechanism, employing impersonal biases to place each character in the improbable center of the plot.
The second story opens with a chromatic adjective: “blue.” The title, “Tinta azul” [Blue ink], reveals nothing. There is no prolepsis; everything that happens happens in a gradual process of drawing-out and insinuation. There are allusions to a contemporary psychotropic world:
“We should go home. I’m depressed.”
“Did you take Prozac?”
The story makes little effort to follow the precepts of Poe or Quiroga; it ends when it has to end, with efficient reticence:
“What’s wrong?” he asks, uneasy.
But she regretted it immediately. “Why?” she asks herself. She makes a half-turn and walks toward the sink. She washes her hands with soap. She has blue marks all over her. The blue mark doesn’t go away.
In “Frontera de sal” [Salt frontier], poetic constructions and the suggestive second person emerge at once: “Fire lives in the south, they told you, but you didn’t believe the heat could be so intolerable.” The photographer in the story captures images for the reader, without any song and dance, without overreaction, and his technique reinforces the story’s sense of credibility in an atmosphere of Rulfian phantasmagoria. But the story is not directed toward the deep Mexico, the final Thule of fantastic criollismo—rather, it leans toward the hemispheric limit, toward a southern physical geography in the midst of a typography that turns capital letters into the climax of a nightmare: “HERE ENDS GUATEMALA AND BEGINS MEXICO.” Political borders are transformed, and in the final reiteration of the verb caer (“to fall”) the Derridean construction of difference is verified.
The “you” occupies a central space in the story “Roxi”: “Roxi tells me that unprincipled people are the people she likes best. I believe her.” The author puts forward the theme of identity and the mirror of the other in a text whose brevity (fortunately) keeps us from discerning any moral lesson.
The story “Cajita feliz” [“Happy Box”] explores the universe of the “you” from the point of view of the consumer. A poetics of letting-oneself-be and a poetics of wanting-to-be circle the plural noun “mexicanos” (Mexicans) in a miniature epic that involves the universe of fast food, and McDonald’s in particular.
The story that gives the book its title, “¿Te gusta el látex, cielo?” [Do you like latex, my love?] could have been, with some minor expansion (which would likely have been welcomed by the major publishing houses), a short novel. Nonetheless, the author preferred to give us a compact, brief story in which sexual identity, alienation from the body, and the definition of sexual belonging successfully place an issue that would normally be difficult to address within the tight boundaries of a short story, at its very thematic center.
“¿Te gusta el látex, cielo?” is the most ambitious and realized story in the book. There are no explicit scenes: everything that is narrated serves to make a point that is apparently minor but actually transcendent. The character development goes far beyond the examples of the book’s previous stories: Glenda or Glen, in their two versions, is a riddle and a paradigm of transsexuality and mystery. The liturgy is completed by Helena, Julio Nazar, and the stubborn suspicion that nothing is what it seems.
Ambiguity takes over the story, and Glenda or Glen reconstructs the places of man and woman. The character’s outline suggests an outdated identity that sits in dialogue with traditional and historical Mexican machismo. The story describes realistic figures of the present, proposes and responds to challenges, skirts the violent shores of gendered being, and proposes no definitions or solutions, opting instead for the cruel charm of language and a narrative that dares to oppose tradition—even the Pazian “tradition of rupture.” This is a story that will elevate its readers and cross their own boundaries.
Put briefly, ¿Te gusta el látex, cielo? is a solid, sensual book that made this reader appreciate the scale of risk.
Member of the Academia Nacional de Letras of Uruguay