Oliverio Coelho’s novel excerpt ‘After Effects’ is as subversive and heartbreaking an examination of love as any reader could hope for. A young man, Iván, takes a bus to the dusty village of San Manuel, in order to surprise the father he has never known. A momentous journey, for certain, but for Iván the stakes are greater even than we might expect – while he waits for the bus to leave the station, ‘A sudden certainty calmed him: if he found his father, perhaps some woman would be able to love him in the future . . .’ Thus assuaged, he sleeps peacefully, ‘wooed by faith.’
‘Wooed by faith.’ It’s such a small phrase, almost a throwaway—and yet its mystery ripples across these pages. Coelho, here, is less concerned with the physical search for Iván’s father (though he is easily found) than in presenting the quest as a spiritual crisis. Through Iván’s eyes we see a world dangerously suffused with the uncanny: old men playing cards in a bar ‘seemed to be in purgatory, haggling over the price of a ticket to paradise.’ In order to see his father among them, Iván looks ‘through the particles of light that hung in the air.’ These men leave the bar and disperse, ‘ . . . neutral dots moving away against the crystal-clear background of nothing.’ (Iván and faith, it seems, may not be compatible lovers after all.)
Iván wants a father to give him meaning. Oliverio Coelho – a masterful writer – is after even bigger game: He wants us to consider, through Iván, how love, familial or otherwise, is faith.
How all of us, no matter our circumstances, desire the same miracle: a figure emerging from the crystal-clear nothing, walking our way. – Christopher Coake, Best Young American Novelist 2007
Each of the Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists answered a questionnaire on their influences and the role of the writer in public life. Here are Coelho’s answers:
Name the five writers you most admire at the moment (any period, language or genre).
Cervantes, William Faulkner, César Vallejo, Jorge Luis Borges, Louis Ferdinand Céline.
Have you published literary criticism?
Yes, regularly for the last seven years. I think it’s a good way to turn one’s gaze, every now and then, towards things being written at that moment.
Which languages do you read in?
Spanish and English.
Do you have your own web page?
Yes, I have a blog called ‘conejillodeindias’, which I update monthly. I started it as a blog in 2005, when it was updated daily, and it slowly turned into a sort of archive of ideas, articles and interviews.
Is your fiction your sole source of income? If not, what else do you live off?
No – it comes from a lot of marginal activities too: literary criticism, stories, editorial work, writing workshops, taking part in round-tables, discussion panels, etc...
Should writers play a role in public life beyond the publication of their work? If so, in what way?
I don’t have a categorical position on the subject. I think that every writer is cut from different cloth. Some writers can play a role in public life through an interest in working politically, or through militancy or the interventions of a committed intellectual. The problem is that when a writer gets involved in public life, very often he or she doesn’t measure up as a committed intellectual and can masquerade as an opinion former. Others, for many reasons including timidity or phobia, prefer to stay away from public life. So, to my thinking, the best way to play a role in public life nowadays is to risk thinking outside the box and to convey an ethic in any literature-related public involvement - whether in an interview, a speech or a review.