“The Journey of the Eyeball” by Katherine Vaz

(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.

http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/wsas/academics/journalism/Vaz.htm

Advertisements

Deal Me In – Week 46 Wrap Up

20141116-134933.jpg

A little behind schedule getting this posted as i was “out late” last night at the Colts game (which was a disaster for the home team, ugh). Anyhoo, here we are:

Only a few cards left now… Below are links to new posts this week.

It’s time for James to shuffle up as he drew his last two cards, getting Haruki Murakami’s “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes” and Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpethttp://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/11/10/henry-james-vs-haruki-murakami-a-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/. James becomes the first of us to complete his 52 stories this year. Can’t remember everything he read? His original roster can be found at: http://readywhenyouarecb.blogspot.in/2014/01/deal-me-in.html

Dale read the oft-anthologized James Baldwin story, “Sonny’s Blues” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/james-baldwin-sonnys-blues/

Randall read Bruce McAllister’s “The Boy in Zaquitos” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-boy-in-zaquitos-by-bruce-mcallister.html from the Best American Short Stories anthology of 2007.

I read Katherine Vaz’s “Fado” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/fado-by-katherine-vaz/ and continue to enjoy one of my favorite new to me authors of 2014.

Return Reader delivers four new posts:
On George Saunders’s “Sea Oak” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/short-story-35-sea-oak-george-saunders/

On Olufemi Terry’s “Stickfighting Days” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/short-story-36-stickfighting-days-olufemi-terry/

On Saki’s “The Mouse” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/short-story-37-the-mouse-saki/

On Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/short-story-38-the-veldt-ray-bradbury/

Katherine wrote about Matthew Costello’s “The Final Vanish” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/deal-me-in-week-46-the-last-vanish/ and shares a video of another famous vanishing…

“Fado” – by Katherine Vaz

20141116-082601.jpg

It’s week forty-six and I drew the seven of hearts. This is my second story from this author for this year’s Deal Me In short story reading challenge. I wrote about her “Undressing the The Vanity Dolls” earlier this year, and it remains a strong contender for my favorite DMI story of 2014. I read, ad hoc, another story of hers this year titled, “The Birth of Water Stories,” and was blown away by that one too. The story “Fado” was not as moving as those other two (that, admittedly, set the bar quite high) but I continue to enjoy getting acquainted with this author.

Plus I learned a new word from this story’s title. 🙂 Do you know what a “Fado” is? I do (now). It’s “a plaintive, Portuguese folk song.” It’s a perfect title for this “cover story” of the collection, and seems appropriate for the collection as a whole too. I also learned what a “wish ribbon” was. One of the characters in this story puts great stock in their efficacy. Primarily, I believe, a Brazilian tradition, the wish ribbon enters this story when Xica is at the post office to pick up a ribbon “do Nosso Senhor de Bonfim” sent from that country by her cousin. How are they supposed to work? “Wrap the wish ribbon around the wrist, and make 3 knots, making a wish for each of the 3 knots tied. Once the Brazilian Wish Bracelet falls off the wrist on its own, it is believed that the 3 wishes will come true.”

In this story, “Xica” is the neighbor and ’surrogate grandmother’ of the young female narrator. Xica has endured many hardships and the worst of them is that her bright and promising son Manuel has been rendered mute and apparently brain damaged by an auto accident. Compounding the problem is that Manuel’s young and beautiful wife, Marina, has lost interest in him because of the accident, where Xica feels she should be supporting him “in sickness and health” as the vows go.

Xica is one of the more interesting characters I’ve met during this year’s Deal Me In reading. I was particularly amused by the fact that she kept an “ofensa ledger” wherein she catalogs the sins of those around her and proposes appropriate punishments. She knows that keeping such a register is God’s job but feels that “once again, He was asleep.” Much of her grit, and unfortunately, her superstition and vengefulness as well are passed on to her surrogate granddaughter, Rosa.

The last few pages of the story feature an accelerated recap of Rosa’s growing into a woman after Xica has passed on. I believe it is in these chapters that we see how Rosa has applied what she learned from Xica’s somewhat unique approach to life. We see her through her fist sexual encounter “Sex happens the way a pearl is formed. It begins with a grain or parasitic worm that itches in the soft lining until the entire animal buckles around it. With enough slathering it will relax into a gem.” Not bad, huh?

Rosa even later makes peace with Marina and tends to her when she becomes sick, leaving us with our other “take away” from the story: Rosa tells us, “Here is the seal from which all grace comes: We must create Pietas in order to live. Flesh that is torn, flesh that is dead or dying, even as it is rotting through your fingers – hold it next to your heart. Find ripe and tender flesh too, and hold it in your arms, because your life depends on it. Hold it for as long as you can, and ask for its blessing.

Below: Michelangelo’s “Pieta”

20141116-083512.jpg

Okay, so after reviewing the story in accompaniment of writing this post, I’ve decided that I like this story almost as much as the other anyway. 🙂 There is some powerful stuff in these thirteen pages.

Have you read Kahteirne Vaz before? I can unreservedly recommend her.

Only six stories left to read for DMI 2014!

20141116-082550.jpg