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Swann's Way
Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
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The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays
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Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico - Javier Marías, Esther Allen Yeah, I know—another 5 star review. I seem to be handing them out like candy lately. But, BUT, it’s not my fault. Blame GR. Blame amazon.com. Blame yourselves. I take recommendations from wherever I get them, and all too frequently, I like what I get my hands on. So think of this 5 Star as somewhere between 4 and 5—probably not perfect, but I wouldn’t know perfect if I saw it. Are we OK? Am I forgiven for another Oh-Boy! review (to follow)?

Javier Marías does it for me. He speaks to me. Once our pacing is resolved—the pace at which his fiction presents itself and the pace at which I most receptively take it in—we sing together. Well, he speaks, I sing, somehow it all works out.

With Bad Nature, Marías revisits a character first introduced in Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me. The narrator, Ruibérriz de Torres, plays a minor role in TITBTOM, but shares center-stage with Elvis in this novella. Something that readers of this novella only won’t know is that Ruibérriz de Torres (yes, he lives through the story he narrates [duh!] and that aside cannot be construed as a spoiler) to become, among other things, a ghostwriter. At the time he narrates this story, he would have been a participant in the events of TITBTOM. From the novella’s first sentence, the narrator begins to reveal his own character and the resultant action in the story:

No one knows what it is to be hunted down without having lived it, and unless the chase was active and constant, carried out with deliberation, determination, dedication and never a break, with perseverance and fanaticism, as if the pursuers had nothing else to do in life but look for you, keep after you, follow your trail, locate you, catch up with you and then, at best, wait for the moment to settle the score.
Ruibérriz de Torres is very deliberate in what he says, and he’s a man terrified by something in his past—something that has haunted him, trailed him, something he cannot get beyond:
A chase lasts like no other kind of time because every second counts, one, two, three and four, they haven’t caught me yet, they haven’t butchered me yet, here I am and I’m breathing, one, two, and three and four.
This gloomy introduction, then, gives way to a surprisingly funny account of a time in his youth (age 22) while working in the States and landing a job as a speech coach for Elvis as he prepares for the filming of Fun in Acapulco (a film Marías knows more about than any human should). A night out in Mexico City with a subset of Presley’s entourage, during which Ruibérriz de Torres acts as translator, leads to a misunderstanding with some locals and an event which will never be far from the narrator’s awareness. That event is made more interesting in that it instantiates the Translator’s Dilemma—that of remaining true to the letter or the spirit of the speech to be translated. What fun!

This is a slight, little volume. Some might challenge its worth at $9.95 given a reader can get Marías’ novels for $10.00 to $13 & change. If you’re a Marías fan, it’s worth it; if you’re only wondering and looking for some sort of value, take advantage of a 4-for-3 promotion like I did. Hell, if that doesn’t work for you either, borrow a copy—borrow it from me—well, some of you could borrow it from me, you know who you are.