Clara Sánchez, Últimas noticias del paraíso
January 5, 2014 § 2 Comments
Creo que sólo algunos padres representan a su vez la idea de padre, como algunas esposas la idea de esposa y algunos empleados de grandes almacenes la idea de empleado de grandes almacenes. Porque nada más que unas cuantas personas son las elegidas para simbolizar al resto de las personas. Así que esas raras ocasiones en que mi padre me abrazaba y trataba de comunicarme su amor no han servido de gran cosa, no se han convertido en idea. Porque, en el fondo, más que padres auténticos lo que se quiere son ideas con las que vivir, con las que seguir cavilando todo el santo día, con las que continuar dándole vueltas a la cabeza, con las que poder unir esto con aquello, o sea, un cierto material para hacer lo que no se puede dejar de hacer: pensar y pensar. Por eso cuando alguien te abraza, pero el abrazo no se te queda en la mente, es como si no te hubieran abrazado. No es tan desesperante que no te quieran si no necesitas imaginarte que eres querido, amado, como diría Alien. (pp. 130-131)
I believe that only some parents represent in their time the ideal of parenthood, just like some wives the ideal of the wife and some department store employees the ideal of the department store employee. For nothing more than a few people are chosen to symbolize other people. So on those rare occasions when my father hugged me and tried to communicate his love it didn’t help much, wasn’t ideal. Because, in the end, rather than real parents what they want are ideas with which to live, with which to follow brooding all day, with which continue turning the head, with which to unite this with that, that is, a certain material doing what they can’t stop doing: thinking and thinking. So when someone hugs you, but that hug does not stay in the mind, it’s as though you had not embraced. It’s not as frustrating that they don’t love you if you do not need to imagine that you are wanted, loved, like say Alien.
Suburbia is a late twentieth century socio-cultural malaise that first began to be seen in isolated teenage wastelands several miles from the decaying centers of large urban areas sometime in the 1970s or early 1980s. Symptoms of this malaise include harried parents who have less and less “quality time” (this word being itself a symbol of the malaise) for their children; vapid interactions of adolescents with their peers and the world itself; and only medium-deep introspection that progressively proves to be shallow the older the would-be thinker becomes and the more callouses s/he develops from the indifference of those around him/her. In cinema, where such symptoms are not just esteemed but are idealized, the infected may gather in shy, haltering breakfast clubs, may see if they are pretty in pink, or perhaps snort a few lines of coke before lighting sixteen candles. Yet despite the potential for self-parody and a deepening of this sense of socio-cultural disconnect, for the past thirty-five years or so, writers as well as filmmakers have sought to capture this seemingly paradoxical pathos of the emotionally drained youth.
Clara Sánchez’s 2000 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, Últimas noticias del paraíso (Latest News from Paradise), on the surface breaks no new ground. Her protagonist, the teen Fran, has concerns and issues that were a dime a dozen in teen-oriented novels and movies of the 1980s and 1990s. He lacks a good family life; his parents are preoccupied with other matters those rare times that they are physically present in his everyday life. Like so many before him, he searches for answers. Can happiness be found in drugs, in sex, or is he fated to just be another smothered candle, with his life’s brightness doused prematurely by the pressures placed upon him? Despite the familiarity most readers will have with the subject matter, Sánchez does do a good job in fleshing out Fran’s character.
Últimas noticias del paraíso does not contain any big reveals or titanic climaxes. Instead, there is an episodic feel to the narrative, as Fran meanders his way around Madrid’s suburbs, seeking out friends (one important one being the so-called “Alien,” who represents the kid who is smart yet who has become disenchanted with life) and musing over the frustrations that have beset him. Those of us who grew up “latch key kids” or were labeled “Gen X slackers” will readily understand his conundrums and the various ways in which he seeks out new experiences to fill the void left by his parents’ frequent absences. He is not the twin to Alberto Fuguet’s Matías (Mala Onda); he is not especially embittered by the vapidity surrounding him, but he does represent a mirror to Fuguet’s character in his desire to escape, to find that little bit of imagined “paradise” around him. The narrative follows his search for meaning and his eventual finding of something that gives Fran hope for the future. It is a small, rather subtle conclusion, yet it contains surprising power to it.
The characterization is fairly well-done, although the character types often resemble those from other period writings. If there is something that Sánchez can be faulted with in the prose, it would be the relative lack of slang expressions. Fran’s voice feels almost too polished, not always close to that of an angst-filled teen, and there are times that this creates an artificial levity that threatens to leech energy away from the narrative. But this is balanced with some keen observations on the part of Fran that leads to a quick-moving, fast-paced narrative that somehow manages to retain a good narrative flow.
Compared to the previous Premio Alfaguara winners, Últimas noticias del paraíso is a slighter work. It is not a poor nor even a mediocre novel, but it is a novel that settles for being a quieter, less moving narrative than its award-winning predecessors. This is not a bad thing, mind you, but does mean that Últimas noticias del paraíso leaves this reader wishing there was just a little bit more to it, a little bit more than just telling a frequently-told teen tale just a little bit better than most of its sort.