fri 04/12/2020

Daniel Saldaña Paris: Ramifications review – chaos reigns in contemporary Mexico | reviews, news & interviews

Daniel Saldaña Paris: Ramifications review – chaos reigns in contemporary Mexico

Daniel Saldaña Paris: Ramifications review – chaos reigns in contemporary Mexico

Revolutionary fervour sends ruptures through a nuclear family

Daniel Saldaña ParísDaniel Saldaña París

The majority of Daniel Saldaña París’s latest novel spurs from a single act, committed during the height of summer, in 1994.

The majority of Daniel Saldaña París’s latest novel spurs from a single act, committed during the height of summer, in 1994. Teresa, the mother of the unnamed narrator, departs her family home in the Educación neighbourhood of Mexico City to join the Zapatista uprising in distant Chiapas. Ramifications tells of the aftermath of this departure – for her, her family, and particularly for Teresa’s son, whose task it is to re-establish order in a world that has been thrown so violently into chaos.

He fails to do so. A Beckettian misery throbs in the mechanism of this novel, in the figure of the bedbound enigma that is the same boy, twenty years on, still tormented by Teresa’s departure. He is París’s chosen narrator, and it is into his memories – “fabrications that bear little resemblance to their supposed origins” – that we are drawn, following his younger self in a ludicrous, if short-lived, attempt to cross Mexico in search of his mother. Amplified by his own satirical and self-reflective commentary, the product of years of hindsight, the boy experiences a rapid coming-of-age, his naïve ignorance brushing up against the brutality (and reality) of a world of drugs, relationships, and a military checkpoint – an embarrassing encounter, that leaves his trousers soaked-through with urine. Teresa, meanwhile, is revealed as a woman shackled by the demands of patriarchy, whose grip is symbolised most overtly in her idle and conservative husband.

But the novel is not just the story of a young boy, but the story of a young boy – that is, events not only as-experienced, but as-told. His initial response to Teresa’s “escape”, “disappearance”, or “flight” (the terms of her departure are constantly re-assessed, or re-thought) is to create a fiction: “‘Camping’, I thought … my mother, Teresa, went camping”. It is one of numerous attempts to transform the contingent into the rational, a process that finds its metaphor in the boy’s obsessive attempts at origami. Like a Borges map, the two-dimensional reality that such an obsession entails soon begins to stand-in for its more complex alternative, the boy noting his father’s “lack of crease marks”, while the angst of a newly unravelling life throws up the appropriate and freshly-coined “reverse origami”.

It is as if to sure-up the fabric of this past that París’s older narrator, and the self-identified author of the text, houses much of the novel within the confines of trope and cliché. Events and individuals acquire a supernatural quality: cruelly ignored by his sister’s boyfriend, the young boy imagines that either “I were transparent or he had the power to see through human bodies”, while moments of solitude are secured courtesy of science-fiction, and the secret “Zero Luminosity Capsule” constructed in the boy's own bedroom wardrobe. All the while, París drip-feeds small details, like the morphined figure of the character’s cancer-stricken father, which successfully fuel our intrigue, and ensures that reading Ramifications is like participating in the unfolding of a detective story.

If such appeals to fantasy are the manifestation of a psychological effort to smooth the chaotic edge of reality, however, they also betray the weight of trauma endured. This fact becomes more obvious with the young boy’s overtly Oedipal desires, to “finally become the adult male in the household” and, imagining his mother’s return, “move into Teresa’s bedroom.” To a similar end, there is a gentle comedy that runs throughout the novel, by which the narrator affords himself an emotional distance from the very events upon which, in order to fix his story down in writing, he feels compelled to dwell. So, describing the low quality of life for the inhabitants of his shoddy origami pagoda, he concludes: “The origami mother would undoubtedly have run away to Chiapas.”

For all its affirmations of the chaotic nature of life (one that comes into greater light the more we learn about Teresa’s impulsive escapade) Ramifications is a novel light on experiment, its plot progressing rather smoothly towards a conventionally late, and perspective-shifting twist. But these conventions are also the novel’s strength: the slow, meted advance towards its ultimate revelation mirrors the narrator’s own gradual understanding of his past, and provides the preconditions for París’s depiction of a ruptured mind still waiting for its memories to suture.

@danielbaksi

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