AUTHOR: Francisco Solano
PUBLISHER: Editorial Minúscula
READER’S NAME: Lynn Eddy-Zambrano
DATE: April 19, 2017
In a scant number (150) of tiny (6” X 3 ¾”) pages, Francisco Solano has constructed a contemporary, smart, occasionally amusing, but ultimately sobering analysis of an adulterous relationship – and so much more. Very little of this book is conventional to its ostensible genre. There are no descriptions of heated physical or emotional passion. The reader learns how the couple met, and is told the details of the slow and painful (for one of the parties) dissipation of the relationship, but hears almost nothing about the three or so years in between.
The story is told entirely from the first person perspective, a male voice. The narrator discloses a handful of facts about himself over the book’s ten chapters. He’s approaching fifty; single but has been “the other man” a number of times; he’s a writer, but doesn’t depend on writing for his livelihood. We never learn his true name and it is only in Chapter IX we even learn the pseudonym by which his lover knows him. That name was the result of accidental circumstances, but tellingly the narrator never rectified the error.
The narrator tells the reader up front that the target of his writing is not his married lover nor their relationship, but his lover’s husband, an interesting subject precisely because he has a curious aversion to biography. The husband, like the other characters in the book, is quite un- extraordinary, except for one peculiar, singular quality: blurriness, opaqueness, not metaphorical, but physical. People who have seen him cannot recall what he looks like; in his company interlocutors strain, to the point of inducing nausea, to get a clear fix on his features. As the narrator’s biography project stalls, his writing wanders off onto other, more personal and introspective paths. By the end of the book he has laid down everything he knows about the husband, which isn’t much more than he knew at the beginning. As the narrator looks harder at himself in those final chapters, he finds that the man staring back is a lot like his lover’s husband.
Solano carefully crafts his narrator’s writing style to coordinate with the stages in the cycle of his relationship with the married woman and his emotional development. Some chapters use reported speech to portray the writer objectively researching and documenting his story. A few chapters are built around direct speech – amusing episodes in which the narrator enlists friends to find out all he can about his lover’s husband. While the final chapters are deeply introspective monologues spoken by the narrator to himself and his anonymous reader.
So what is Jugaban con serpientes really about? It's the chronicle of an existential journey through the labyrinth of 21st century human interactions: the simultaneous, but dichotomous fear of and desire for intimacy and emotional commitment, of being in control or being controlled; loneliness, vulnerability, being "the other" and relegated to the background, while longing to be "the one", recognized and publicly acknowledged. At its base Jugaban con serpientes is about truth, distortions, omissions, speculation, the stories people tell themselves because that is what they want to hear. Personal and interpersonal encounters with shades of truth, these are what weave the book's narrative. Along the way Solano
– through his narrator -brings up the media's and writer's roles and responsibility in constructing truth. Very timely, indeed.
The book will translate successfully – both its language and its content – for English readers. A hint of distinctively Spanish cultural flavor is embedded in it, confirmed by place and street names. This gives the book a texture appealing to all readers. Generally speaking the book’s elements are universal. One, perhaps, culturally-based concept that won’t translate seamlessly for American readers, is the concept of the notario, the profession of the lover's husband. It has nothing in common with Americans’ concept of a notary and exceeds what Americans understand by the word lawyer.
Jugaban con serpientes should definitely be made accessible to the English language reading audience. Maybe there is a film or play in its future as well?