The first Charco Press title that I savoured was Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz. That was one impressive read and it found a place on my Best of 2018 list. This year, particularly, I have tried quite a few of their books, and the experience has been great. Both The German Room and Fish Soup were fabulous as was The Wind That Lays Waste.
So without much ado, let me delve right into one of their newest releases, Loop.
Loop is narrated in the form of diary entries that our unnamed narrator (a woman) jots down in her Ideal notebook, as she waits for her boyfriend Jonas to return from his trip to Spain. The recent death of his mother prompts Jonas to go on this trip with his father and sister.
The Ideal notebook is a recurring motif in the novel. It’s a notebook not easily available in stationary shops. In a way, the narrator compares her act of writing (composing and erasing thoughts and ideas) in her notebook to that of Penelope weaving and unravelling the shroud as she waits for Odysseus’ return in Homer’s Odyssey.
The entries are not made in any linear fashion. Instead, it is more of a circular narrative as a lot of the themes, ideas and motifs recur at various points in the novel, just as thoughts generally do. It also explains why the novel is titled Loop.
Gradually, we get a glimpse of the narrator’s personality and a bit of her everyday life. She might be pining for Jonas but she is not entirely alone given her rich circle of friends. These are friends with whom she attends parties, conferences or even dinners.
If I wrote about my friends, I’d dedicate chapters to Tania, Julia, Carolina, Guillermo, Tepepunk, Antonio and Luis Felipe.
Our narrator carries her Ideal notebook with her all the time, and it especially comes in handy when she is waiting either in reception rooms or at airports. These serve as the perfect places to pen her thoughts on tangible stuff such as music (David Bowie and Shakira make frequent appearances), literature, the availability of Ideal notebooks, to more philosophical musings like Jonas’ return, relationships with parents, metamorphosis, love and death as well as many other abstract ideas. For instance, there is one chapter that explores the concept of an island and loneliness.
As our narrator waits for Jonas, she is also plagued by doubts about whether he will really return. And even if he does, will things ever be the same?
Sometimes I’m afraid. I wonder what will happen when Jonas returns from his trip. Sometimes I worry that when he comes back this will all be over, but then, I’m scared of endings in general. It’s a consequence of the accident.
The accident incidentally was a near fatal one but our narrator manages to stage a gradual recovery.
When the recovery begins, when you’re gradually getting better, there’s a window, a small frame through which you can project yourself into another time – into the future. At the end of the day, that’s what low points are for: to open that window. I thought a lot about doing everything I’d been afraid to do, and that was the window I had.
A heady cocktail of reflections and recurring patterns swirl in our narrator’s mind. Numerous references are made to the dwarf next door that sets off a chain of thoughts on scale and size.
The dwarf, who’s a different height, who can sit in a chair and not touch the floor with his shoes. Who lives on a different scale. Who lives in a strange sort of margin. Who has the same abilities as you. Who walks down the same pavement as you. And yet.
Our narrator is also fascinated by useless things and by people who are on the margins.
Marginal, useless work. Infact I’m drawn to the very idea of uselessness because there’s something almost fictional about it. A piece of work, an object, the more ridiculously useless it seems, the more fascinating I find it. All those objects, all those services that serve no one seem to me like the triumph of fiction.
On a minor scale, she writes about her cat…
The cat’s in the living room playing with the pencil I dropped; I’m feeling sleepier and sleepier. It’s like the cat and I are working shifts on an office reception, taking it in turns behind the desk. I don’t know what that means, of course, but it’s the kind of thing I write, as if I’m playing with this pencil. Writing is my way of being a cat and shedding fur, or phrases, onto the armchair.
…And in some entries, her range of writing expands to the political as she laments the violence in her country, Mexico.
Have we got used to cruelty?
Changes in the cabinet, a change of president and the numbers don’t change. I wonder what would happen if each parent, each child, each person who’s lost someone in the last few years picked up the microphone to talk about their loss…every single one of those stories out loud.
Other than The Odyssey, Loop deliciously abounds with references made to literary works and figures. Here’s a taster:
Beckett: So is this the story of waiting? ‘Waiting for Godot’, waiting for Jonas?
Kafka: Speaking of Kafka, have I told you he’s one of the authors I read for self-improvement?
Wilde: My first story was about a giant because the first thing I read and fell in love with was about a giant, I was seven when I read that Oscar Wilde story.
Proust: I like what I’m reading so much that if Proust were a madeleine I’d dress as a cup of tea. In fact, if Proust were alive and in Chicago, I’d invite him to the party. I bet it would be fun to go to a party with Proust. He’d be the first on the dancefloor.
Pessoa: This morning I walked past a café. I imagined Pessoa ordering five different drinks, one for each of his heteronyms.
Emmanuel Bove: Emmanuel Bove’s first novel is called ‘My Friends.’ I’ve been looking for this book for years. To no avail. If I weren’t going to the cinema tonight, I’d write a version of ‘My Friends’.
Machado de Assis: My dear friend Tepepunk gave me ‘The Alienist’, by Assis. There’s a minor character who nowadays seems hard to imagine: the rattle man.
My verdict? I loved Loop.
Brenda Lozano’s voice is fresh, irreverent, and her unique imagination peppered with flights of whimsy is at full display here. There is a beguiling quality to her writing that makes Loop quite an addictive read. The narrative is fragmentary and introspective, and the repetition of ideas heightens Loop’s novelty rather than detract from it.
The book is immensely quotable. That said, instead of elaborating further, I would instead urge you to experience Loop yourself. Another wonderful title from Charco Press and I look forward to their publishing schedule for 2020.
Meaning that being thirty-one and waiting for Jonas to come back from his trip, plus a cat, some plants, some books and an apartment aren’t the average.
Why the fervent desire to be part of the norm? How to get away from it? What’s the most distant point?