May 21, 2013
Fiction that appears to take writing on the road to renewal
By Andrew Graham-Yooll
For the Herald
There has not been anything big in Argentine fiction in the last few (or more) years. That might explain the oft repeated references to a handful of greats and one dead Chilean as if there were nobody and nothing in their shadows. The literary prizes of the commercial imprints, Planeta, La Nación, Clarín, El Ateneo, etc., were intended to winkle out new talent, but not a lot resulted. The prize parties were fine, but that was it.
Poetry has fared better. The so-called “poets of the nineties” constitute a group of recognized talent (and that includes the Herald's Martín Gambarotta). But it has to be shouted that much of the new (fiction) writing in Buenos Aires (read, Argentina), has made little impact in the confused first two decades of the 21st century.
So it was a revelation to find journalist and literary editor Juan Ignacio Boido’s first book, his first at the age of 38, i.e. beyond the range of the babies rushed into print with a clever idea, twenty-something must-reads, promoted by publishers as the new stars and future Nobels. In the way of things, they burned out.
Just as you are about to ditch the playschool fiction, along comes a small book (200 pages with lots of white space between lines) that is different. This is an expression of hope, hopefully rewarded, that El último joven (The Last Young Man or The Last Youth), by Juan Ignacio Boido (published by Seix Barral) might break with the blathering of what is fashionable. Some of Boido’s reviewers (pacem Alan Pauls) see traces of Francis Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) in this first collection. Perhaps there is, in the atmosphere of human disengagement and failure and languid opulence. It would be great to think along the lines of T.S. Eliot re Fitzgerald, that Boido “has taken the first step in Argentine fiction” renewal. The book that provokes this (friendly) admiration is a collection of five long short stories. One of the stories, Teddy Hernández enters Literature, is a novella, where the young man of the title visits the colonial-style estancia residence in Ascochinga owned by Teddy, and from there looks on the end of an age, at the meaning of wealth (displayed by the said Hernández), the secrecy involved in calculated ostentation, the termination of youth of the title (which does not belong to any of the five stories). Incidentally, when does youth come to an end? The stories sustain the prevalence of love, the discovery of magic and loss, mixed with the remembrance of romance in its different stages. The reader comes to terms with the transition: a form of passage, without notable rites, but with elements of mystery and the self-searching of the characters that turn on the ill-defined “youth” of the title (at one point he is a university lecturer) who nevertheless is very real.
It is not totally new, of course. The name of Pablo Toledo, also of this parish, comes to mind, with his 160-page Los destierrados (translatable as The Banished, better than the “landless”) where the characters have been displaced by urban changes. That was an anticipation of a new style, which is probably why so few read him.
Educated at St John’s school, in the Buenos Aires northern suburbs, Boido’s book combines the elements of old-fashioned private education and Cold War prescriptions, some of which he may have found inspiration for in a history of St. George’s College (Quilmes).
The gap between Boido and other recent writing is that here is somebody writing “at” a wider spectrum with concern for a strong style. Another difference with the novel fad is the return to short fiction, the long short stories, and the “novella.”
Current Argentine fiction needs the change to get out of its mind block with the recent past which Argentines want to ignore. Too many in the literary establishment are looking at post-Borgean figures such as the Chilean Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003), as their only model. Is there really no other since a generation gone? In Argentina, the constant references (justified as background, but not perpetually and to the exclusion of all else) are Borges, Cortázar, Mugica Láinez, Saer, Manuel Puig, and such like, as well as poets such as Lamborghini, Gianuzzi, Viel Temperley, etc., who are drawn on all the time. The blanket of silence and censorship under state terror thirty years ago still justifies some of the stagnation and the excessive return to the dictatorship as source, but as a society, our writers should be learning to get out of that rut. Boido made a start.
This is not just a literary conundrum, Juan Ignacio Boido’s five stories throw the reader into a political and social search through Argentina as a whole, a look, maybe even a glance, as to whether anybody is watching the breakdown in the rule of law, the corruption, the moral decay, urban decrepitude, and the currently repetitive literature included.