Pedro Paramo (1955)
After I finished Pedro Paramo, all I wanted to do was put my head on the desk and cry.
Not because the ending is tragic – the entire story of Pedro Paramo is tragic – but because the writing filled me with the kind of despair that will probably never go away.
In this book, the reader has no clear idea who the protagonist is. Pedro Paramo is far too larger-than-life to be an approachable character. Father Renteria is far too circumventive to be empathized with. Susana, well, no reader or character can understand even half of what she’s thinking. Juan Preciado is the reader’s guide into this hell Rulfo has created, but his story is trivial compared to the suffering that fills this town. The ghosts are thrown at the readers, and we are expected to accept them without blinking an eye.
In fact, the reader has no clear idea of what is even happening in the book. Was that incest? (Probably.) Is he a ghost? (Most likely.) How did Pedro Paramo really die? (I’m with the death shown on the last two pages.)
Yet it works perfectly. It’s true that the reader gains a bigger revelation and thus a bigger catharsis with nonlinear stories, in which missing pieces come together slowly until the full picture is finally presented. The effort it takes to piece them together, perhaps, or the suspense of wondering about the missing pieces makes the ending all that much sweeter.
Yet such an effect is extremely hard to achieve, and nonlinear stories are always at the risk of being merely confusing, especially in such a murky setting with mixed characters as in Pedro Paramo. This book manages it, however, and it manages it brilliantly. The intrusions of Pedro Paramo’s story are smoothly delivered between Preciado’s stories, until the book becomes a true omnibus and the reader does not even feel the transition until it’s too late.
The book manages to deliver even incest smoothly, less as disgusting and more as darkly disturbing in its mix of the innocence and sin, as in the case of the couple-siblings Preciado encounters.
In short, perhaps, I loved Rulfo; and I hated him for writing what I want to write, long before I even realized that it was what I wanted to write, and for writing it far better than I could have written.