Saturday, November 8, 2008

Alberto Fuguet's novel The Movies of My Life

Writer's Note: Many of us love movies to excess and it is a great temptation to refer to them in various mediums and Alberto Fuguet is one writer who has made films an important subject in his novel...

Alberto Fuguet. The Movies of My Life. Ezra E. Fitz, translator. Rayo/Harper Collins. New York. 287 pages. 0-06-053462-1.

The Movies of My Life, by Chilean author Alberto Fuguet, is a family romance of anger and sweetness, countless aunts and uncles and more grandparents than most children need, class differences, adultery, and—friendship. It is the biography of an individual mind; and an exploration of a science that combines technology and uncontrollable natural force, seismology. The novel is also a love letter to the fondly remembered films of childhood. It is not enchanting, but it is pleasing.

The reader meets Beltran, who studies earthquakes, as he prepares to take a flight from Santiago de Chile to Japan for a conference. Shortly before he leaves for the airport, Beltran’s sister telephones him to say that his grandfather died in El Salvador. Beltran expresses no grief; and he is not given to being charming, and fearlessly asserts his rights—to the airline when it suggests rescheduling his flight due to overbooking and to his seat partner when she seems inclined to intrude on his privacy. (Beltran says about his work: “I liked being surrounded by people who were completely unable to relate to themselves or to each other. There is no greater paradise on earth than the microcosm of science—and now, especially computer science—for those who don’t dare to die but also are unable to live like the rest.” pg. 32) Beltran is an alienated figure, one of many in modern literature; and part of this story is the telling of how he became that way. The text moves among various time-periods; that, a fragmented narrative, and carefully distilled information are also traits of a modern literary text such as this one. Beltran’s unexpectedly friendly conversation with the woman seated next to him includes her mention of a list of favorite movies; and that inspires his own film lists—which he will send to her via e-mail.

The films are fun—and counterpoint to the political upheavals of the time (Nixon, Allende, Pinochet), distraction, expression, and guide; alternative narratives. Napoleon and Samantha features an actress who reminds the boy, Beltran, of a girl he’s infatuated with; The King and I stars an actor one of Beltran’s aunts is briefly married to, Yul Brynner; and Beltran sees Earthquake! with his seismologist grandfather and realizes the man’s fundamental fear of earthquakes; Beltran’s first orgasm is inspired by memory of Jacqueline Bissett in a wet T-shirt in The Deep; and Beltran takes his mother to see An Unmarried Woman to help her become reconciled to being a single woman. The book, while being a very literary text, is enjoyable for its demonstration of how pop culture intersects with youth in the modern world. We see as part of Beltran’s memories sudden changes in culture (from Santiago to Inglewood and Encino in California), schoolyard abuse, a distant father, a mournful mother, and a scientist grandfather who introduces him to a field that has both practical and imaginative uses.

Fuguet has replaced magical realism with the force of personality, human purpose, and nature.

© DG, 2004