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  • Connection & Combustion
  • Karen Corinne Herceg (bio)
Air Jorge Armenteros Spuyten Duyvil 249 Pages; Print, $16.00

There are virtually no synonyms for the word "air," its omniscient, singular presence ubiquitous and essential. Atmosphere is a close approximation but not comprehensive enough for a work of such complex subtleties as Air. Air carries sounds, scents and sights that stir bodies and emotions. Perceptions, dreams and occurrences morph from individual vantage points, shifting the quality of our own particular air. Poetic repetition of the word acts as a symbolic conductor of our physical and interior worlds. Air is also demeanor, and these archetypal characters traverse cultural and gender boundaries with multiple implications.

In this highly imaginative work characters are introduced without cumbersome exposition, the style experimental but accessible. Narration shifts from first to third person with ease and purpose. An ominous mood prevails, and a sense of foreign intrigue more of mind than location, although the locales are exotic: Paris, Marrakech, Guadeloupe, Argentina—all a sensual feast enhancing this kaleidoscope of inter-woven lives, geography being more of a metaphor defining interior landscapes. The somewhat anonymous character of the "the striped tunic," functions both individually and as an oracle. In Marrakech he resides in a ramshackle hotel he renovated providing him sanctuary as he welcomes travelers on inherently doomed journeys. As he states, "My guests believe the answer is in a realm outside of their own selves."

Imena, island born of sea and butterflies, seeks a perfect combination of scents in order to create her own. She goes to Paris as a student of perfumery and then to Marrakech where she attempts to find her scent and elude the oppressive demands of her boyfriend, Patricio, a professor of philosophy at l'Universite Paris-Sorbonne. We learn Imena "detested the snooping questions of her mother. …" The characters are deeply wounded by their parents yet, in seeking autonomy, only repeat the wounds in subsequent relationships. Patricio is haunted when, as a young child, he witnesses the death of his mother and correlates this to her love of tango. A universal paradigm for the human spirit, the tango represents connection while maintaining the dignity of the individuals, a timeless ritual of fluidity and union. But these characters are unable to achieve value exclusive of others' approval and needs. This is the "inner beast" referred to by the striped tunic who comments, "I've seen the white shadow of the rabid wolf, the one that feeds from the horror inside, when the man is unaware of who he is" and he notes to Patricio, "your denial is formidable." They are tortured by neglecting their own spirit and intuition. They wallow in romantic notions such as "melancholy was ecstasy" keeping them imprisoned while searching for themselves in others. As the striped tunic notes, "But even if they were to mesh into each other, an inevitable void would remain." He emphasizes further, "If a full man is broken in two—and every part is complete—then each part is a perfect half."

For all his sage observations, the striped tunic is not exempt from ghosts. He suffers being the son of a murderer from his father's crime of vengeance compounded by cold indifference from his mother. He takes refuge in the desert as a solitary wanderer. Finally he sequesters himself within the confines of the hotel and welcomes visitors searching endlessly in a garden courtyard reminiscent of a lost Eden. The entrance is a red door symbolic of wounds and its innkeeper entrapped in a stench that represents his own fears. Here Imena encounters Jacques, an artist of abortive works, whose attempts to create meaning result in "the same agony of holding and destroying." The seductive Charli, with an ambiguous male name, joins them and engages Imena in ménage-a-trois that fail in another attempt at connection. Ironically, in Imena's recurring dream of a swan with oppressive wet feathers, she links the experience to violation and shame yet repeats the wounding telling Patricio she is hiding from her own fears of losing herself.

Rene, teaching assistant to Patricio, seeks transgender transformation through self-mutilation and then surgery. But his desire...


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