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New England Review - - Cultural History - Carl Phillips

Point­ing first to the rock bluffs, then the rap­tors that hov­ered there, and then to their eyes that—made for hunt­ing—flashed like shat­tered quartz, pulled up wild from the sea, the fog hav­ing lifted, hours, cen­turies ago, Choose one, he said,

whis­per­ing al­most; Choose quickly. As be­tween for­ever, and the light now fallen. The willed sus­pen­sion of belief, say, ver­sus the color of joy out­rival­ing who­ever's best in­ten­tions. That's how hard it was. Any words left that had stood for some­thing

still mean­ing, but in the way that moss can mean: all win­ter; be­neath the ice and snow.

Look—they're turn­ing: how grace­fully each

moves, in the sur­prise of wound­ed­ness—and, where arrow meets flesh, the blood cor­sag­ing . . .

Rev­e­la­tion, jack­ham­mers, love, four hooves in the dirt. How speech­less, now. As if al­ways

light must wed the dark, even­tu­ally, and the dark

mean si­lence. I dis­agree. Touch not the crown— Don't touch me—

TRANS­LA­TOR’S NOTE: The Barcelonese Es­ther Tus­quets (1936– 2012) was al­ready well known in Spain as di­rec­tor of the pub­lish­ing house Ed­i­to­rial Lu­men, when in the late 1970s and ’ 80s she stunned read­ing au­di­ences with the pub­li­ca­tion of a highly praised nar­ra­tive cy­cle whose dar­ingly in­no­va­tive con­tent and prose style broke new ground for the Span­ish novel and for women’s writ­ing. Her first novel, The Same Sea as Ev­ery Sum­mer (1978), with its con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject of an af­fair be­tween a mid­dleaged woman and an ado­les­cent girl and its highly erotic im­agery, caused a sen­sa­tion in early post-franco Spain. In the fol­low­ing years more books ap­peared in rapid suc­ces­sion, form­ing a tril­ogy of nov­els about the sea, then a longer se­ries of in­ter­re­lated works that un­veil an in­tense and self-con­tained nar­ra­tive world. Tus­quets’s works epit­o­mize in­timist literature, of­fer­ing a pro­found and lyri­cal ex­plo­ration of a woman’s in­ner life. Her books seek to un­der­mine the cold ma­te­ri­al­ist val­ues of the so­cial mi­lieu she grew up in, that of pro-franco up­per-mid­dle­class Catalonia, while in­scrib­ing her own dis­tinctly fem­i­nine vi­sion, both on the level of sub­stance and style. Through her fluid mu­si­cal prose, her long wind­ing sen­tences that fol­low the logic of feel­ing states, Tus­quets’s nar­ra­tive voices reach out to the other, af­firm­ing un­der­stand­ing and love as the fun­da­men­tal ex­pe­ri­ence of life.

The sto­ries pre­sented here, “Al­ways the Sea” (2008) and “Two Old Friends” (2009), writ­ten near the end of the au­thor’s life, touch on cen­tral themes of her work: the im­por­tance of the hu­man con­nec­tion, of art and beauty, and the con­fronta­tion with ag­ing and death as the ul­ti­mate re­al­ity. In­deed, a life­long ob­ses­sion with death per­me­ates Tus­quets’s work. The young Sara, pro­tag­o­nist of her story col­lec­tion

as a child lies awake at night, sud­denly over­come by the pal­pa­ble and hor­rific imag­ined ex­pe­ri­ence of her own death. Elia, midlife pro­tag­o­nist of the novel Stranded, sees love as the one ex­pe­ri­ence that can, for a time at least, tran­scend and thereby de­feat death, since love em­bod­ies the full­ness of life. In a fem­i­nine re­write of Ing­mar Bergman’s chess game be­tween the me­dieval knight and Death, Elia speaks of her in­ner land­scape as a bat­tle­field wherein each piece of ter­rain that love aban­dons is im­me­di­ately oc­cu­pied by death. Al­lied to the theme of love and death is the leit­mo­tif of the sea, sym­bol of fe­male eroti­cism, life and death. As the au­thor’s nat­u­ral el­e­ment, the sea serves as the back­drop, the peren­nial point of de­par­ture and re­turn, for her en­tire nar­ra­tive se­ries. Thus her short tale “Al­ways the Sea,” an ac­count of an old woman’s fi­nal re­turn to the sea, can be read as the last page in the book of her life.

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