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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 100 Years of Solitude

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Jack's Naughty Bits



For
the second time, I am excerpting from Gabriel García Márquez. My
respect for him is so great, it flummoxes my pen. I feel like I’m one of those proverbial
monkeys given typewriters and eternity, who looks up from his own page of garble and
sees Hamlet emerging from his neighbor’s keys. García Márquez, Gabo as
he is called among friends, has produced two books (One Hundred Years of
Solitude
and the less known but perhaps even more impressive Autumn of the
Patriarch
) that are so far beyond what virtually any other contemporary writer has
written you wonder if he didn’t find some manuscripts in a crashed UFO. Reading
García Márquez at his finest gives you the impression that there is nothing
more important in this god-lost world than writing, but he’s so good he makes you never
want to write again yourself.


    

But alas, we beat on. For even the master himself has not been himself in the last
twenty-five years. No surprise, perhaps, for the reaction to the 1974 release of
Autumn was probably a major disappointment to the writer at the height of his
powers. Though at least as ambitious, the book was nowhere near as well received as
One Hundred Years (released seven years prior). Autumn is a masterpiece,
but it’s a difficult read, and the three-page sentences and fifty-page paragraphs try the patience of many readers. Consequently even today it lingers in partial
recognition.


    

And thus One Hundred Years of Solitude is hailed as Gabo’s foremost
achievement (although those who like Literature Lite seem to prefer Love in the Time of
Cholera
). And the position is hard to dispute. One Hundred Years has as
involuted and imaginative a narrative as any novel since Clarissa, and characters as
simultaneously real and improbable as your own family. And it has sex. Good sex, and no
small amount of it.


    

The scene below details José Arcadio (of the prodigious manhood) losing
his virginity to the smoky-smelling housekeeper Pilar Ternera. It occurs near the beginning
of the book, and bespeaks such promise that Gabo could have written a thousand years and
we would have stayed for the end. Many writers have written of first times, but few as
exquisitely as García Márquez does here. In Moby Dick, Melville calls death “the quick
bundling of man into eternity”; here García Márquez gives us the quick
bundling of man into the here and now.




* * *  







From One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez


Translated by Gregory Rabassa





That night, in his burning bed, he understood that he had to go see her, even if he were not
capable. He got dressed by feel, listening in the dark to his brother’s calm breathing, the
dry cough of his father in the next room, the asthma of the hens in the courtyard, the buzz
of the mosquitoes, the beating of his heart, and the inordinate bustle of a world that he had
not noticed until then, and he went out into the sleeping street. With all his heart he wanted
the door to be barred and not just closed as she had promised him. But it was open. He
pushed it with the tips of his fingers and the hinges yielded with a mournful and articulate
moan that left a frozen echo inside of him. From the moment he entered, sideways and
trying not to make a noise, he caught the smell. He was still in the hallway, where the
woman’s three brothers had their hammocks in positions that he could not see and that he
could not determine in the darkness as he felt his way along the hall to push open the
bedroom door and get his bearings there so as not to mistake the bed. He found it. He
bumped against the ropes of the hammocks, which were lower than he had suspected, and
a man who had been snoring until then turned in his sleep and said in a kind of delusion,
“It was Wednesday.” When he pushed open the bedroom door, he could not prevent it
from scraping against the uneven floor. Suddenly, in the absolute darkness, he understood
with a hopeless nostalgia that he was completely disoriented. Sleeping in the narrow room
were the mother, another daughter with her husband and two children, and the woman,
who may not have been there. He could have guided himself by the smell if the smell had
not been all over the house, so devious and at the same time so definite, as it had always
been on his skin. He did not move for a long time, wondering in fright how he had ever
got to that abyss of abandonment, when a hand with all its fingers extended and feeling
about in the darkness touched his face. He was not surprised, for without knowing, he had
been suspecting it. Then he gave himself over to that hand, and in a terrible state of
exhaustion he let himself be led to a shapeless place where his clothes were taken off and
he was heaved about like a sack of potatoes and thrown from one side to the other in a
bottomless darkness in which his arms were useless, where it no longer smelled of woman
but of ammonia, and where he tried to remember her face and found before him the face of
[his mother] Úrsula, confusedly aware that he was doing something that for a very
long time he had wanted to do but that he had imagined could really never be done, not
knowing what he was doing because he did not know where his feet were or where his
head was, or whose feet or whose head, and feeling that he could no longer resist the
glacial rumbling of his kidneys and the air of his intestines, and fear, and the bewildered
anxiety to flee and at the same time stay forever in that exasperated silence and that fearful
solitude.


© Harper and Row