- One Luis, Two Luis
Ezra. Fitz, trans.
Dalkey Archive Press
208 Pages; Print, $16.00
Much of the meaning in Eloy Urroz’s The Family Interrupted surfaces through the book’s structure. Urroz sets up something that can be described as approximate binaries. The book contains two plot lines that play out seventy years apart. Both protagonists share a name. Both are gay. One is a poet. The other studies film. Luis Cernuda escapes Spain during the Spanish Civil War; Luis Salerno Insausti leaves Mexico to study film in New York City. Both seem to progress along similar but inexact paths. The grace of the telling is how neither story cleanly matches one another. It would be a lesser book if there was more parallelism, more symmetry.
Fearing for his life, Luis Cernuda escapes Spain with the help of Stanley Richardson, “the one man who annoyed him more than any other man on Earth, and with whom he’d also had a very brief romantic relationship.” This tension pushes Cernuda away from Richardson, and his luxurious flat, and towards the Vullioni family in Oxfordshire where he becomes a caretaker for Basque children who escaped the bombing of Bilbao. There he meets José Sobrino Riaño (who prefers to be called by Iñaki, his Basque name), who is dying of leukemia.
Meanwhile, Luis Salerno Insausti, a self-posed exile at thirty-five, receives a grant to study at the New York Film Academy. Shortly after arriving in Manhattan, he begins his first homosexual relationship with Alfredo Tieck, an MBA student. They hang around St. Mark’s, attend the theater, and get coffee at Barnes & Noble. During a flashback, Salerno Insausti recalls discovering Amparo, a woman whom may be his stepsister. This information creates a wedge between him and his family, generating the impetus for his self-exile to New York. The isolation ends when his younger sister calls to tell him that her four-year-old son José is sick and going to die.
Both plots are approximate. The reader can’t help but compare and contrast the two stories.
One of the boldest stylistic choices made by the author is the merging of distinct incidents into one scene—creating a narrative interruption. On page 111, a scene begins with dialog between Luis Salerno Insausti and Amparo. The two are discussing Amparo’s version of her conception. Traditionally, the author would present this scene as an organic whole that could only consist of characters that are present. Instead, the scene is interrupted by Salerno
Insausti’s father, who provides a counter narrative from the near future. First, this scene is important because the title of the book becomes a central theme as the reader begins to sense just how Luis Salerno Insausti’s family is interrupted by the news of an ignored stepsister. Worse, Amparo’s version of her conception doesn’t match his father’s. This introduces subjectivity and doubt into the minds of Luis and the reader. It forces the reader to join the protagonist in the process of gathering and evaluating evidence in order to make sense of claims about Amparo’s identity. Ultimately, Salerno Insausti sides with Amparo, creating a familial rift that sends Salerno Insausti into exile, compounding the sense of an interrupted family.
While neither of the protagonists is technically an orphan, both feel alienated from family and isolated from others. This experience transforms them into compassionate people who provide comfort to others. This comes to a head at the end of the novel when Salerno Insausti stumbles across a poem written by Cernuda. Here the reader glimpses at a possible function of literature. Both protagonists experience a similar traumatic events. The poet goes to the page and cathartically writes, while the reader searches for comfort in reading. Through these literary activities both seem to be connected by a bolt that cuts through time and space connecting writer and reader—alleviating the alienation and isolation caused by the interruptions in their family lives.
This book dramatizes why some readers deeply connect with a text or an...