This is the first time I tried the work of Cesar Aira, the Argentine author. I enjoyed his way of provoking and stimulating the reader with surprise twisting of sub plots, cerebral analysis and delightful descriptions. He takes the readers for leisurely stroll in the streets of Buenos Aires stopping at cafes, bars and restaurants and letting us listen to the unending Argentine conversations, complaints and debates.
Aira opens the story with the sentence,”When I left Providence (Rhode Island) in early December, the first fall of snow already lay buried beneath the second, and the second fall beneath the third”. That’s what one finds inside the novel; layer of one story buried under another.
Here is a sample of the way Aira describes an incident :
“El Gallego, the owner of the restaurant inserted the crank handle and started turning it, and the first fold of the awning opened out, a mass of water fell onto the pavement. It had rained overnight and the water had pooled in the canvas. Luckily it came down well away from the line of tables, and didn’t even splash us. Perhaps it wouldn’t have splashed us even if we had been closer, because it was as if every last drop had been absorbed by the victim: a young man with a bicycle. He wasn’t riding his bicycle but wheeling it; he had probably just got off and stepped up onto the pavement. The water doused him as if it had been expertly aimed. And it was no small amount. No shower of separate drops. It was a solid bucketful, gallons of it plunging with the force of gravity, right down onto him. He stood there transfixed by surprise, fright and wetness. Especially wetness, which overpowered all the rest. He was drenched, down to the last thread of his clothes, the last strand of his hair and the last cell of his skin. He seemed to go on getting wetter, in a process that transcended the temporality of the accident. The water ran over his face and down his arms (eddying around his watch); smooth waves of it passed under his T-shirt, swelling and rippling the fabric; it flowed down inside his Bermuda shorts, formed little translucent curtains like glass tubes around his calves, and bubbled coldly all over his sandalled feet. We stared in fascination, frozen like him. He was right there in front of our table. A moment passed, the briefest of moments, perhaps. Time is especially hard to measure in such circumstances. Perhaps no time passed at all, or only the infinitesimal fraction of a second required for the eye of the totally soaked young man to communicate with his brain. He didn’t have to look around because chance, as I said, had put him right there in front of our table; the same chance that had placed him beneath that cascade at just the right moment. He opened his mouth, parting the veils of water that were still flowing over his lips, and cried: ‘Leticia!’. The young video artist who was sitting with me, and had seen it all happen, suddenly found herself having to make a psychological readjustment. I know, because I was looking at her and could see the mental process reflected in her face. The protagonist of this episode had been a stranger, like every victim of a mishap witnessed in the street. It’s never Juan or Pedro but the guy who tripped or was mugged or got run over. But now, with the help of memory, she had to reassign the stranger to the category of people whose names she knew. This too was a very rapid operation. It happened in a flash, before all the water had fallen from the awning, or so it seemed: ‘Enrique!’ She leapt up, went straight over and hugged him, oblivious to getting wet”.
With such delightful descriptions, the book is entertaining and intriguing. But when I settled down to enjoy the scenic journey, the story stopped and ended abruptly with this:
“Oblivious to the accident that he had caused, El Gallego kept turning the crank handle. Enrique, like an actor left in the middle of the stage when the play has finished, stood there dripping, motionless, stunned by the surprise. And with one hand, he went on holding the delicate machine at his side: that ‘little steel fairy’, the bicycle, from whose spinning stories are born”.
I felt like Enrique who ends up like “an actor left in the middle of the stage when the play has finished, stood there dripping, motionless, stunned by the surprise” and wonders “how could there have been an ending if the beginning was still going on?”
I am hooked to the way Aira spins stories on the pavements of cafes and bars of my beloved Buenos Aires the Borgesian city. I am going to read his other books.