One Out of Two by Daniel Sada

by Daniel Sada, trans­lated by Kather­ine Sil­ver, Gray­wolf Press, 100 pages

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

In con­trast to its bur­lesque fore­fa­ther, Don Quixote,

One Out of Two is a poignant farce in which sur­real touches are in­fused into seem­ingly ev­ery­day mo­ments. Two iden­ti­cal twins, united by their par­ents’ death, share a rancher beau un­be­knownst to him, un­til, in­evitably, they must tell him about the de­cep­tion or sun­der their sis­terly bond. One Out of

Two is a de­li­cious romp of a novel by the late Mex­i­can au­thor Daniel Sada. Kather­ine Sil­ver trans­lates this book with verve from the orig­i­nal Span­ish.

A well-mean­ing aunt raises the ado­les­cent twins, Glo­ria and Con­sti­tu­ción Ga­mal, in her crowded home; the twins are smart enough to leave as soon as they be­come adults and can claim their in­her­i­tance. Still, the in­de­fati­ga­ble aunt con­tin­ues to write them let­ters that even­tu­ally be­come fuel for a bon­fire. The sub­stance of th­ese let­ters is: You Idiots. Get Mar­ried.

In­stead of mar­riage, a sewing shop be­comes the sis­ters’ an­chor. They keep their noses to the prover­bial grind­stone, and the pre­ci­sion with which they cut and sew cloth be­comes in­sep­a­ra­ble from their iden­tity. They are per­fec­tion­ist busi­ness­women to the core. Their aunt — who main­tains that “chil­dren are life’s gift to women” — can­not fathom how far their minds have trav­eled from hers.

The Ga­mal sis­ters are also light years ahead of the cul­tural mi­lieu in Ocampo, the town where they live and work. Sada por­trays the town as a place where small talk mush­rooms into gos­sip and where idlers are abun­dant. Which is why the worka­holic sis­ters put up this price­less sign in their shop: WE ARE BUSY PRO­FES­SION­ALS. RE­STRICT YOUR CON­VER­SA­TION TO THE BUSI­NESS AT HAND.

Con­sti­tu­ción is more talk­a­tive than Glo­ria, but if she takes pains to hide a birth­mark and dress like her sis­ter, no one can tell them apart. At first, their sis­terly ties seem im­pen­e­tra­ble. But love, and the pos­si­bil­ity of mar­riage, does strange things to the stur­di­est souls. As their courtship with the rancher, Os­car, pro­gresses (the sis­ters take turns go­ing on dates), their re­la­tion­ship is dark­ened by envy, re­sent­ment, and schem­ing. How long can Os­car, who is mostly pre­oc­cu­pied with rais­ing cows and pigs, cleave the two sis­ters?

Their aunt has taught them the virtue of re­serve if they hope to lure their man into mar­riage. Early on, Con­sti­tu­ción plays by the rules. She tells her sis­ter: “At the be­gin­ning, when we were alone there in the wal­nut grove, I could tell he wanted to kiss me on the cheek, or on the fore­head, or who knows where; he si­dled up close to me while I was graz­ing out over the hori­zon, act­ing like a don­key about to start bray­ing; I: like a surly mare, turned quickly to face him and he po­litely backed off.”

It’s not sur­pris­ing to learn that Sada (1953-2011) was a poet and a con­nois­seur of the rhyth­mic struc­tures of the Span­ish lan­guage. The de­noue­ment be­gins with a po­etic set piece: On learn­ing the truth, Os­car is so dis­ori­ented that he bolts out of a gro­cery store in the mid­dle of drink­ing soda, leav­ing be­hind the flow­ers and gift he had got­ten for his beloved. The im­agery may veer into melo­drama, but it is an­chored by play­ful de­scrip­tions — he aban­dons “those dis­gust­ing soda cans, one still full, and the other now empty, drip­ping only with saliva.” Sada creates a spe­cific mood, fu­eled by the twins’ in­tel­li­gence and a par­o­died ven­er­a­tion of their bond, and he is able to sus­tain this mood through­out the short novel. The novella is some­thing of an anom­aly in the U.S., but writ­ers such as Sada and French au­thor, Pa­trick Mo­di­ano, have used the form to ex­cel­lent at­mo­spheric ef­fect.

In keep­ing with the Mex­i­can tra­di­tion of Día de los Muer­tos, the twins worry if their ac­tions have of­fended their dead, and whether pro­vid­ing a proper burial to their par­ents — who died in a road­side accident and are still in a com­mon grave — will help re­solve their sit­u­a­tion. They make elab­o­rate plans to re­turn to the road­side grave, un­til the gar­rulity of a lo­cal gro­cer ren­ders their de­par­ture point­less.

In the end, the twins have to con­sider this fact: Other than a few ini­tial ques­tions, Os­car has shown no cu­rios­ity about their sewing shop. In­stead, he dreams of open­ing a road­side tav­ern, in which one of the sis­ters would likely have to slave all day. Woe unto the man who gives no thought to his fu­ture wife’s pro­fes­sional in­ter­ests! Still, love is love, and not much more is left of their youth. Should one sis­ter sac­ri­fice her­self for the other? As the novel hur­tles gid­dily to its cli­max, the sis­ters walk a tightrope be­tween cul­tural expectations and their lives as mod­ern pro­fes­sion­als. In the mean­time, their aunt waits and waits for good news. — Priyanka Ku­mar

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