Translated by Cola Franzen with the author
Hydra Books/Northwestern University Press ($15.95)
by Amy Havel
As many people know, love and pain can go hand in hand, but Alicia Borinsky brings this idea to a new height of absurdity in All Night Movie. Driven by stunning prose and whirlwind of frenzied action, the novel presents an oddball cast of characters, most of whom have a very skewed sense of tender loving care. The central character is a young woman who goes through a series of transformations amidst a backdrop of urban chaos, which includes an erotically charged telephone booth, several kidnappings, and a cult of angry young women bearing apples. Add to this a variety of narrative techniques consisting of diary entries, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and tango-lyric headlines, and you'll find that the novel's adrenaline alone makes it worth the read.
Matilde Felipa/Bochita/Juana (her name changes in various ways through the story) tries to kill a man that she loves, then moves back to her mother's boarding house, only to realize certain similarities are shared among kin. Love, at least for Juana, her mother, and Juana's lover Pascual Domenico Fracci, follows a seemingly inevitable path toward death, yet the path is also quite circular, with several actions in the story referring to the "cottony and circular future." For example, in another part of the book's landscape, a young striptease artist is kidnapped by a lesbian duo, Raquel and Rosa. The pair glue a uniform onto the girl's body, claiming that it's for her own good, but when "the Scarred Girl" (as she becomes known in the news) is rescued, she seems to want to get back in touch with her captors. In the end, her damaged body is covered with a suit of armor which shines brightly enough for people to see their reflections in it.
Bodily transformation plays a big part in the novel, especially with Juana, whose size changes and facial hair come and go. When she first meets Pascual Domenico and listens to his conversations with a woman named Lucia, she finds that shortly after "timidity and desire had seeped into her body and also without realizing it the very idea of Luica had transformed her. She was now a woman of short stature, chubby, with ankles slightly swollen, flabby muscles, in need of a massage." Later in the novel, she enlarges, then shrinks back to a "normal" size.
Just as bodily transformation indicates a change in the status of love in the character's life, happiness and comfort signal tragedy is about to strike. In a way, this tragedy cannot be avoided and is almost craved. When Juana finds out that Pascual Domenico is alive, she foresees their next meeting: "when she was strong once more and they loved each other anew with an unquestionable and serene love, she would be free to find the pistol again, come into the room, shoot him, steal the key to the door, and leave him on the floor to bleed to death."
In the background of all of this mayhem, the Eva girls, a cult of young women who roam the city, serve as a chorus to the story. While they are not direct participants, they are always around. They appear to follow Juana but never confront her or involve themselves with her:
As happened often, the girls of the Eva cult passed by her with no sign of recognition. They went on singing in blustery fashion, pretending to be crazy, because this week it happened that every one of them was suffering from premenstrual tension and according to a medical prescription had to chant special hymns for the occasion. A gang of boys followed them with signs, bells, and invitations to dances in dark houses where the father of one of them, a short paunchy gentleman, counted ticket after ticket seated at a marble table with a glass of chocolate milk at his left hand.
This small example exemplifies the world that Bornisky presents in the novel: carnivalesque but seamless as a collective vision.
Cola Franzen's translation from the Spanish provides excellent incorporation of tango lyrics, some left intact when they are easily understood by English readers, which successfully maintains the influence of the music and the Latin American atmosphere in the book. At times, the intertwining of the characters and their many transformations becomes confusing, and it takes a while to pick up on what's actually happening because of the flexible reality at hand. However, the many voices that Borinsky has created eventually begin to chime together, and the pleasure of entering this other world really takes off. This world, while on the surface filled with darkness and fear and loneliness, also consists of the promise of change and the abilities of individuals to adapt, by whatever means necessary.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2003 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2003