Friday, October 7, 2016

Blitz by David Trueba, translated by John Cullen

Somewhere in the middle of this book I experienced a moment of unrestrained joy. It came from the novelist’s art. He was able to twist me around, following the unexamined actions and attitudes of a confused 30-year-old struggling architect from Spain who had just been dumped by his girlfriend. Much of the joy came from the novelist showing me his chagrin at the heart and soul and underdeveloped mind of a young man under duress.

The young man travels to Germany with his girlfriend to defend his landscape architecture project for an international prize before a jury. The novel opens with his girlfriend dumping him by email, an email missent to him. He becomes disoriented, and a day later he is fumbling through the streets of Munich with his suitcase. It hits us viscerally. We’ve been there. But almost immediately the young man turns his anger and disappointment on his competitors in the landscape competition, which compromises our affection for him. He is taken home by a 63-year-old conference organizer, and proceeds to insist himself on her sexually.

The whole bedroom scene is etched in spell-binding detail, down to the uncomfortable moment he fingers the underpants of a woman not expecting a moment of intimacy. She fairly clearly (they are both drunk) resists his advances, but finally concludes that resistance is futile. The result is a conclusion each think of as a “pity fuck,” the young man chortling over the details to his friends later.

It is a gorgeously written, naked, painful, seeing moment. We watch as the callow young man stumbles into a job that suits him, and it is somewhere here that I experience the joy I spoke of. It comes when we realize the novel is not really about Beto, the young man. The meaning of the novel comes from Helga, the older woman, and her fears and understanding about the passing of time, and how life changes and fades one’s ambitions. The pity fuck was all on her side, and eventually the young man begins to see her, the German mütter, with her heavy breasts hanging to her waist and her dry cunt and her understanding and acceptance of all that life is.

Every review I have seen of this novel mentions David Trueba’s earlier novel, Four Friends (or Cuatro amigos) and compares this one unfavorably. I haven’t read Trueba’s earlier work, but just reading this novel makes me think he is something very special indeed. It isn’t just the young male viewpoint in this novel, but how Trueba brings us along to admiration and acceptance and real feeling for both characters. The idiocy and dignity of human beings capable of compassion are equally on display.

Trueba is a novelist as well as a well-respected actor, screenwriter, and film director in Spain. His brother Fernando won a Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1994 for the film Belle Epoque, and David's film, Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, was nominated in 2015 for Best Foreign Language Film. The movie, about John Lennon's roadtrip in Spain, swept the prestigious Goya Awards the year before. The synergy of David Trueba’s set of skills creates, in screenplays or in novels, quick, sharply-focussed images that we recognize from the pain and distress or joy in our own lives. A prop, a bottle of vodka with a blade of grass resting at the bottom, is the “gun” in this novel, the object that once brandished, means something consequential is about to take place.

The paperback copy of this novel has included several color plates that are so sudden and so unexpected that one actually experiences a kind of gratitude. One plate is a photograph of a postcard of an unnamed bay in Mallorca on a glorious, sunny day, the photo showing the rooftops of several gargantuan summer homes for vacationing Europeans and a few boats dotting an aqua inlet. The other plates are relevant to the story and imbue the work with a richness and glamour. There is also an excellent, absurd pen-and-ink drawing of Beto as he stands before the sum total of his life to that time.

This is a hilarious, painful, meaningful novel that has a sophisticated European feel, despite the ordinariness of the lives of the characters. I am delighted to be introduced to the work of David Trueba. I’ll be looking for his films, and of course the much-lauded Cuatro amigos. Many thanks to Other Press for finding this and sharing the wealth.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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