Sunday, November 01, 2009

The New Yorker: "While the Women Are Sleeping" by Javier Marias

A couple from Madrid is on an island vacation where they observe other people at the beach, including the attractive Inés and her older, far less attractive companion, Alberto. The most remarkable thing about this pair is that the man is constantly video-taping the woman, and it’s clear that he adores her. She, on the other hand, is “appropriately indifferent.” Their behavior puzzles the Madrid couple and eventually the man finds Alberto alone, by the pool late at night. Alberto explains, although it takes awhile to make himself understood, that he has two tapes for his camera: he uses one for one day’s taping, then uses the next for the next day’s taping; then he records over the first day’s tape for the following day, and so on. The reason for this, it turns out, is that he is that she is going to die and he wants to be sure that he has her last day on tape, to enjoy forever. But she’s not sick. The man realizes that before long she will lose interest in him and when that happens he will have to kill her. The revelation is startling to the man from Madrid, of course, who thinks of his wife who is sleeping in their hotel room.

The story seems to deal with the twin themes of vision and memory—what we choose to see and what we choose to forget. The man from Madrid goes to the beach without his glasses because he doesn’t want to have a white mask on his tan face, and consequently he can’t see clearly what is happening around him. And when spots Alberto from his hotel balcony, he can’t see him clearly—he appears to be in a fog, the colors he wears are indistinct. At the beach, Inés uses a magnifying glass to find the imperfections that she must pluck out. As for memory, for Alberto memory is combined with vision—it’s as if he cannot remember it if he cannot see it. But for the man from Madrid, he has no such need, and doesn’t even own a camera. “Memory is a kind of camera,” he says, “except that we don’t always remember what we want to remember or forget what we want to forget.”

Of all the recent stories in The New Yorker, this one strikes me as being worth re-reading. And remembering.

November 2, 2009: “While the Women are Sleeping” by Javier Marías


Waldo Jaquith said...

It's funny—you and I have opposite tastes in short stories. As a rule, the more that you like a story, the less I like it. There are a couple of stories that you've raved about that stick out in my mind because I reviled them—the sort of pieces that I came into the office the next day and ranted about their awfulness. But, of course, they're in The New Yorker, so we can see that my tastes should be judged as suspect here. :) The point is that these things are relative to a degree to which I hadn't considered.

Rachel at Thornwillow said...

This twisted observational tale is now available through Thornwillow Press as a limited edition beautifully rendered in letterpress with monotypes from Wendy Mark. Since 2003, all our books are type set, printed and bound at our Newburgh factory in the Hudson Valley. A great gift for Valentine’s past the seven year itch and those of us a little less predictable… Please send reviews of this story and our edition care of Rachel to