I think it’s pretty funny that over the last week I’ve read four quality Paris Review interviews — Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, and more recently Gabriel Garcia Marquez — and of the four the writer whose prose stays closest to reality is Hunter Thompson.
The Garcia Marquez interview was interesting to me in two ways; first because it had cool tidbits about the man and his manner of writing and second when viewed in juxtaposition with the other interviews. For instance, one of my favorite throwaway quote from the Bradbury interview was a wonderful sex joke about short stories versus novels: ”The novel is also hard to write in terms of keeping your love intense. It’s hard to stay erect for two hundred days.” So naturally I thought it was really funny when today I read: “One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph… At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be. That’s why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again.” Both are pretty good points — although Bradbury’s was much funnier — and they stand there diametric opposites. I’m not trying to say it’s weird that two great writers have completely different styles or approaches to writing, just that the proximity of my finding the two quotes is entertaining.
And yet, I think there are arguments that can be made to say Bradbury and Garcia Marquez are surprisingly similar writers despite the massive differences in cultural context. In the interview, the interviewer asks Garcia Marquez about the style he used in One Hundred Years of Solitude to convey the fantastic and natural. Apparently he got it from the stories that his grandmother used to tell him. “What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories, and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.” And when I paused to think about it, maybe five minutes ago, I can say that Bradbury uses a similar brick-faced prose to describe the fantastic in his stories. Again I’m thinking of “The Veldt,” and oh, “The Happiness Machine” from Dandelion Wine. I just remembered a conversation with my mom from years ago, trying to decide if magical realism was a uniquely Latin American phenomenon; my first and best guess at a non-Latin novel in that style was Dandelion Wine. It’s time to reread that.
One last thing, one more quote. I like it because it does two things. Garcia Marquez is talking about his transition from journalism to fiction — though it wasn’t a full or permanent transition:
“One night a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed. I was so surprised. The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. . . .” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago.”
First, the statement that Kafka showed Garcia Marquez that he was “allowed” to write things like that warms the cockles of my fucking heart. Writers like Garcia Marquez did the exact same thing for me, and it feels wonderful when titans are shown to only be so big when viewed at the right angles.
Second, In One Hundred Years and even more so in Autumn of the Patriarch Garcia Marquez plays around with time, turning around to tell stories concurrent with ones we just read, jumping forward to name a future that he has yet to build to, and so on and so forth. The quote does this too. It starts as a man in 1981 remembering his first experience with Kafka, when he was twenty years younger. But the way that he phrases the last sentence of the quote sounds like it comes directly from the man in his twenties — the man in 1981 did start writing a long time ago, the phrase would be “a much longer time ago” or something similar. Of course it could just be a translation mistake, which would be much less entertaining.