(Ace of hearts image above from the video game “Fallout: New Vegas”)
Katherine Vaz was one of my favorite new to me authors last year, which earned her a “recurring role” in my Deal Me In challenge for this year as the Ace of Hearts on my story roster. I’m slowly working my way through the tales in her collection “Fado and Other Stories,” and this is the sixth one I’ve read. Last year, I posted about “Undressing the Vanity Dolls” and “Fado,” both of which I enjoyed immensely.
A cutesy way to summarize this story would be “Kind of a Nikolai Gogol rewrites “The Nose” using an eyeball while assisted by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” You see, Jose is in love with Ana. Ana is married but they have a secret place where they meet at regular intervals. Jose – or “Ze” to his friends – yearns for more and cherishes opportunities to see and observe her outside of their routine. One such opportunity presents itself in “The Day of Contests” in the valley where they live. Though Ana is in attendance with her husband, Ze decides that distinguishing himself by accumulating the most points in all the contests will further insure Ana’s devotion.
During the last of the contests he spots Ana in the crowd.
“A short, stocky man was resting his hand against the back of her neck, where the tips of her blonde hair lay, always, neatly. She was laughing at something he was saying. Was it the laughing done by married people who did not love each other but wanted to reassure others that any fighting would be done at home…”
Ze is an over-analzyer of everything in his affair with Ana. Every expression, every laugh, every look, every word. It is during the final contest that he has spotted Ana and her husband. During this contest, he also realizes he’s over extended himself in his exertions in the prior ones, and he begins to slip into a sort of altered state of consciousness and then a prolonged hallucination or waking dream. In this dream, he is being punished by the people of the village in a sort of medieval “cucking chair” (pictured below), being lowered into a river and held there. During this procedure his eyes pop out of their sockets(!) and though one is “eaten by a fish” the other survives and takes us on a surreal journey through the town in search of his Ana.
I have to admit this story wasn’t one that grabbed me right away, but the further I read the more fascinated I became with the new form of protagonist of the story. Its “observations” we’re unique and often quite humorous. I was reminded, too, how poetic Vaz’s writing is. At one point the eyeball is accidentally kicked by a passerby:
“The kick left the eye’s vision blurred, and in the dimness it wonders if it were a boy again in the Azores, seeing the women in their doorways doing their embroidery in the last light of day – God’s light – because electricity was too expensive.”
And once, when the eyeball is “picked up cautiously” by a dog:
“…in a mouth that was fragrant like rotting straw. The tongue was velvet, with those bumps that put everything eaten onto a pedestal of sorts before it is consumed.”
Overall, an interesting read and one which has likely ‘earned’ this author a spot in next year’s DMI roster as well. 🙂
Below: the author at an appearance at CUNY. The link below the picture also includes a brief video of her speaking about her writing, etc. Worth a watch – it’s only a few minutes long.