Thursday, February 17, 2011

Exclamation: Pedro Paramo

Pedro Paramo (1955)
Juan Rulfo  

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.


  1. Hi there. I dropped by to introduce myself. We're in the same crusade group, and I'm looking forward to getting to know you.

    What a fascinating review. The book sounds disturbing and engaging at the same time.

  2. I'm intrigued by non-linear stories and other unique formats. I'll have to add this to my TBR pile. You've got me very intrigued!

  3. @Michael: It's a pretty well-known classic in magical realism, I believe. (Which would have been a good thing to mention up there, I realize now...) I personally found this book through a professor.

  4. Non-linear stories are among my favorite. I know some people don't like them, but I like the built-in puzzle.

    What you said was what I wish I had written: "The effort... and suspense... makes the ending all that much sweeter."

  5. Hi crusader. I'm dropping by, we're in the same group. Now following!


  6. Hi, JYS,

    I hopped over from Rach's list to introduce myself and follow.

    Today the first challenge was posted.... YAH!


    February 18, 2011 2:40 PM

  7. Helloooo fellow crusader! I'm pretty spellbound by this and will add it to my (rather long) list.
    Happy to meet you.

  8. Sounds dark and gut wrenching. Also, I'm stopping by as a fellow crusader and new follower. On to the first challenge!

  9. I wanted to drop by from group 30 over at the Crusade. I feel your pain when it comes to loving/hating a novel so much you're not quite sure what to do. Happy Crusading!

  10. Just wandering by to say hi to a fellow crusader. See you around.

  11. Interesting critique. I've never heard of this book. Maybe I'll have to check it out. Thanks.

    <3 Gina Blechman (fellow crusader)

  12. Hi fellow crusader group-mate! Sorry I'm long on getting over here. I've been up to my eyeballs in life-stuff.

    I don't know this book or the author, but your discussion of it has my interest piqued. I enjoy non-linear stories and this one sounds intriguing. I'll definitely look for it!

  13. This story sounds very intriguing and most dark and captivating until the reveal. I am not opposed to such a story and I understand that it is hard for some to follow such a concept at times but sometimes that is just how the story develops and has to be written. Best wishes fellow crusader. :)

  14. I was getting all excited about non-linear plotting as I read this post. Do readers today really tolerate that? I love writing non-linearly.

    Then I saw the publication date on Pedro Peramo at the top of your post. Hmmm...can anyone think of non-linear plots that are popular today?

  15. Hi, I'm a Crusader just dropping in to meet you. Great blog!

  16. A very fascinating review - I'm all for nonlinear stories - I enjoy reading them and well, I wrote one. Intriguing!

    New follower and fellow crusader - nice to meet you!