Granizo / John Manuel Silva


Various constants repeat themselves in Granizo (Caracas: Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana, 2011, 92 pp.), Dayana Fraile’s first book. Namely. The transit toward independence, which people tend to confront when they leave adolescence and begin the path to maturity, in which expectations die beneath the disenchantment of discovering that real life looks very little like what we wish. Characters that are somewhat solitary and broken, possessors of a rabid (though not aggressive) individuality that makes them misunderstood by those around them. Repeated references to pop culture. Poetic constructions that nourish the, almost always, fluid prose that narrates the five short stories contained in this volume. Female characters fighting on a daily basis against the hidden feeling that they are victims of male presences, not necessarily antagonistic ones, such as the father, the landlord, the boyfriend, etc. And an opportune use of irony to temper the gravity of what is being told.

“Tarde de costura” opens the book with an enormous intimacy, sustained by powerful metaphors with a great capacity to suggest the inner torment of the characters. In this case, two girls, Taía and Teresa, the first one very self-assured, the second one submerged in her doubts; both, a reflection of the other.

The prose, which is developed in third person singular for the only time in the book, soon tends toward poetry: “Happiness is a pill, a delirium, Tai, it’s given to us in little pieces, the problem is we try to eat the night in one gulp, and our jaw turns out to be weak, it wasn’t made to chew the stars...” (15)

From the start we guess the tragic fate of one of them, while the other will appear in a later story.

In “Granizo,” this intelligent construction of images that, with few words, draws the main character’s conflicts is sustained: “Poetry came and went, and I would leave it, though occasionally it would stay and take on the shape of a dog’s carcass decomposing on the rug, a discourse ulcerated so as to better recall Baudelaire, to eat its worms with pleasure and imagine myself cross-eyed, ugly, a prostitute, Rimbaldian, dying from cold or maybe syphilis in Paris, just for the satisfaction it gave me to return from those decadent recreations, and realize my life was so removed from those scenes...” (22)

But soon, narrative imprecision marks a pattern. Initially it seems like a mannerist story, locating the protagonist, a university student arriving from the interior of the country, in a rented room in an apartment inhabited by a senile old man and an ailing woman with two children. Fraile doesn’t just dedicate substantial paragraphs to describing these characters, she also does this with the rest of the neighbors in the building, from the concierge to the latter’s daughter, until getting to Patricia, a neighbor who ends up befriending the narrator. But later on, inexplicably, the narrative branches off into a turbulent love story between the protagonist and Jacobo, a psychology student.

The prose that flowed naturally in the first story, here finds itself slightly awkward and affected by a need to over explain: “I didn’t ask for much because the rent was cheap and the building was only a few blocks away from the university and because, after all, I had learned not to be so demanding, and to bite my tongue because, I really had no other choice.” (23; my italics)

Moreover, the characters that appear at the beginning, with the exception of the old man Giacomo, who serves as a reflection of the failure that floats over the protagonist, don’t add anything to the plot and only draw out a story with a few extra paragraphs to spare.

It is, undoubtedly, the least accomplished story in the book, despite having a few of its own narrative merits.

“La vida con Fiori” presents another episode in the life of the previous story’s protagonist. Once again the student in the process of fully assuming her independence can’t help depending on her father’s money and on the decisions of a landlord, obstacles to what the narrative voice defines as a “golden freedom.” (52)

What in the book’s title story was an insubstantial apparition of characters who contributed little or nothing to the central plot, here turns out to be a fortunate construction of the atmosphere surrounding the protagonist. The fact of not fitting in with any of the tribes that inhabit the Escuela de Letras where she studies, described with distant irony, becomes the motive by which the protagonist ends up befriending Fiori, a brilliantly drawn character, in whom the author vindicates attitudes deemed socially strange, as part of a warm personality that values strange people.

The prose in this story, the book’s longest, slowly constructs masterful images that lead to a luminous ending.

A digression is called for: there is frequent talk of two tendencies in Venezuelan fiction. One, present mainly in the novel, that develops themes of a historical and political nature, seeking to generate metaphors about the country’s current historical moment, narrating episodes from the republican history of Venezuela. And another, developed in our short fiction, that makes literature, or to be more accurate, literary wisdom, the central argument of its anecdote. Something notable in Granizo is its evasion of both tendencies, which have constituted themselves into an easy formula for writers who put little effort and imagination into their work.

And this is particularly notable in this story, in which, against the grain, Fraile observes with delicious cynicism that idealized “bohemian life” that some fiction writers insist on glorifying, especially younger ones: “I soon realized that Fiori saw in Venezuelan rock a substitute for religion, or better yet, for environmentalism. That strange passion represented, for her, an act of extreme charity, it was almost like signing up for Greenpeace and devoting yourself to capturing species in danger of extinction throughout the country...” (55)

Likewise: “The most extreme were those who thought they were Beats, and they acted according to what they thought a Beat was, they’d go to class staggering from how high they were and talked about orgies so everyone could hear them. Which isn’t a problem if you manage to write like the angels, the problem was none of those bastards managed to write a single line.” (56)

Relatedly, the country’s social and political situation only appears obliquely in this story, like a distant reality, that takes place on TV, without affecting or influencing the characters’ lives. In other words, any interpretation that tries to explain the stories told here corresponds to the readers, because Dayana Fraile is only occupied with developing her fiction, without having to make moral judgments on the situation in which her characters find themselves.

Sexuality, almost absent in all the stories, save for a brief moment in “Granizo,” is what moves Rita, the central character in “San Miguel Arcángel... entiérrame la espada,” a retired prostitute, who behind her superstitions and Santería practices hides a great personal frustration, which leads her to depression, deciding finally to go out one evening with the narrator in hopes of lifting her spirits and discovering if she still wields the power she once had with men.

Again, one notices the oppression against the feminine, although in this case in a more direct manner: “In those days, saying miss, as I saw it, was the same as saying jail, subhuman or slave.” (76)

Once more, a rhythmic prose with a sharp sense of humor is employed to make the characters more human: “I don’t know why the image came to me of Rita masturbating with the bills the guys were giving her, it was a really ugly image, I almost fell into shock, her hanging on a pole in the middle of the kitchen, wearing red lingerie and moving like those girls you see in the reggaetón videos.” (75)

Finally, reality ends up imposing itself and destroying the protagonists’ expectations.

The female voice gives way to that of a gay man, who had already been drawn in the previous story, in “Lo de Dove,” the story that closes the book. Here, a frenetic succession of conversations demands an attentive reading in order to untangle the central plot: a group of friends, high on synthetic drugs, gather to bring in the new year and contemplate that their dreams and goals have little to do with the lives they lead.

“Desires are shit –Dove added after taking an extra long gulp from the bottle. We’ll never have what we want and what we want isn’t always what we need and what we need, well, you know, that’s shit...” (87)

The expectations that metaphorically crashed in the preceding stories, here do so in a literal manner, closing the book with a frantic scene that ends everything, turning fairies into demons, as we read in one of the final paragraphs.

Surely, Granizo is more than a notable book of short stories, revealing Dayana Fraile as a mature fiction writer who flees from the cliché “literary styles” that inundate the panorama of our fiction, taking the risk of confectioning (in the literal sense of the term) an accomplished volume of short stories that presages a solid voice on our country’s literary horizon.

{ John Manuel Silva, Panfleto Negro, 24 March 2011 }

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