Patricia E. Reagan’s The Postmodern Storyteller: Donoso, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa constitutes a valuable and erudite, yet ultimately incomplete, analysis of the role, effects and affects of the narrator in novels authored by three writers associated with the Boom: José Donoso’s El jardín del lado, Gabriel García Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s El hablador. Making use of classical rhetoric—there is a surprising dependence on Cicero—Lacanian psychoanalysis, and Walter Benjamin’s reflections in “The Storyteller” (and contemporary readings of this seminal essay), Reagan attempts to identify the common narratological traits, as well as the distinguishing specificities of these three texts, which, in fact, are presented as constituting a sub-genre within Latin America’s post-boom novels. [End Page 595]
Despite the obvious differences in the “other” narrated in each of these novels—respectively an émigré Chilean novelist, the inhabitants of a town in the Colombian Caribbean, a (pseudo) Machiguenga storyteller—Reagan sees all three texts as making use of what she calls a “postmodern storyteller” in order to “narrate the other” (4). For Reagan, this “postmodern storyteller … challenges a postmodern and active reader to formulate a judgment of the narrative subject, and to base individual understanding on subjective perspective” (4). Unlike the modernist first person narrator, who in Benjamin’s classic analysis, can no longer “communicate experience,” this postmodern narrator is able to reinscribe experience textually.
However, this experience is no longer communal, as was the case with the pre-modern storyteller. Instead, it is by means of “individualizing the reader’s experience and leading him or her to make conclusions about the novel’s message” (3), that a connection between narrator and the reader is accomplished and the activation of experience is achieved. As Reagan notes: “the postmodern narrator overcomes the impossibility to communicate … by allowing the reader to observe the novel’s protagonist directly through the narrator’s gaze” (3). In this manner, the distance between narrator and reader, between text and (readerly) experience is obliterated. For Reagan this communication of experience, which it must be noted is felt in a personal, individual, and, therefore, unique manner by the reader, also serves a therapeutic purpose. Explicitly compared to a Lacanian mirror, the stories told by the postmodern storyteller are seen by Reagan as providing the reader with a means to reconstitute the fragmented self characteristic of the postmodern condition: “this fragmentation touches every aspect of contemporary man, who acts constantly in search of self-affirmation. The act of reading literature is one way in which the fragmented individual can reconfigure an image of himself or herself” (130). By extension, literature becomes an ever more necessary aspect of our contemporary care for the self (134), even if the relationship of these three novels to the larger field of Latin American and world literature is not explained.
Despite the obvious originality of Reagan’s analysis, The Postmodern Storyteller raises numerous questions that are unfortunately never answered. (This fact is not surprising given the brevity of Reagan’s study). For instance, she proposes the development of the postmodern narrator as a reaction to the temporary vogue for testimonial narrative in the 1970s and 1980s: “I deem the postmodern storyteller reactionary because I believe the aforementioned mentioned novels … to be reacting against the possibility of conveying truth that is implicit to the testimonio genre, instead emphasizing the subjectivity of reality by choosing to narrate the experience of an Other rather than Self, thus underscoring a theoretical disaccord with the lack of objectivity in the self-narrating subject of the testimonio” (2). Given this explicit foregrounding of testimonio as a negative origin of the novels analyzed, it is surprising that Reagan does not further develop this relationship. This omission is even more puzzling, since El jardín de al lado has been seen as in explicit intertextual dialogue with testimonio, as mentioned, for instance in a passage by Ricardo Gutiérrez-Mouat quoted by Reagan (24).
Neither does she analyze...