A series of posts highlighting the very best of my short story reading. 3. ‘Love’ (‘Armor’) by Clarice Lispector translated by Katrina Dodson, from Clarice Lispector, Complete Stories published by Penguin Modern Classics.
I’ve tried reading Clarice Lispector before, but I’ve never managed to relax into the beautiful strangeness of her sentences. Then, yesterday, I read her short story ‘Love’ translated by Katrina Dodson & I fell completely under her hypnotic spell. “Ana’s children were good, something true and succulent.” What a perfect and delicious sentence.
‘Love’ is, on the surface, a simple story: Ana, a housewife riding the tram home with her string bag of groceries, sees a blind man chewing gum, and this encounter somehow throws her into a crisis —
The knit mesh [of her bag] was rough between her fingers, not intimate as when she had knit it. The mesh had lost its meaning and being on a tram was a snapped thread; she didn’t know what to do with the groceries on her lap. And like a strange song, the world started up again all around. The damage was done. Why? could she have forgotten there were blind people? Compassion was suffocating her, Ana breathed heavily. Even the things that existed before this event were now wary, had a more hostile, perishable aspect … The world had become once again a distress. Several years were crashing down, the yellow yolks were running.
Externally, Ana drops her eggs, misses her tram stop and becomes, briefly, locked in the Botanical Gardens, before returning home for dinner, but internally her world collapses around her, meaning becomes unstable, self disintegrates. It is as though she has passed “through love and its hell”. And, reading ‘Love’, was, for me, a seismic encounter. The situation of the story, at the fault-line of selfhood and motherhood, of interior and exterior lives, was like a small earthquake. I read this paragraph over and over —
Deep down, Ana had always needed to feel the firm root of things. And this is what a home bewilderingly had given her. Through winding paths, she had fallen into a woman’s fate, with the surprise of fitting into it as if she had invented it. The man she’d married was a real man, the children she’d had were real children. Her former youth seemed as strange to her as one of life’s illnesses.
— “with the surprise of fitting into it as if she had invented it”. Yes.
I could quite happily quote the entire story, but instead I’ll tell you that you can read it here — and you should, you really should. You can also read an interesting interview with the translator, Katrina Dodson, here, in which she talks about ‘Love’ and her choice not to smooth over elements of Lispector’s writing that appear not to make perfect sense.
I know that not all of Lispector’s stories are likely to hit me with the emotional shock of this one, but I truly can’t wait to read more of her work. I’ll leave you with a final quote from near the end of ‘Love’ — with Ana trying to catch an instant in a way that rang perfectly true to me.
After dinner, at last, the first cooler breeze came in through the windows. They sat around the table, the family. Worn out from the day, glad not to disagree, so ready not to find fault. They laughed at everything, with kind and human hearts. The children were growing up admirably around them. And as if it were a butterfly, Ana caught the instant between her fingers before it was never hers again.