Say Her Name/Francisco Goldman: Reflections

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I was in Guanajuato once, three years ago.  I walked its streets, silver veined and gold.  I slid through its callejones, tilted forward down its hills, hid inside its theater, got lost, for the sake of my camera,  did not go to visit the dead, by which I mean, I did not visit the mummies in the mummy museum for I did not wish to imagine that brand of eternal.

Who can bear it, staring so wide-eyedly at the end?

People who lose people they love are forever staring in, on the end.  People who lose people far too soon—a wife, say, a brilliant and beautiful wife on the verge of her own greatness and, perhaps, of motherhood, a woman who had walked the streets of Guanajuato beside you—can only wonder, What if?  What if today she were?  What if tomorrow she'd still be?  What if our child had been born?  What if she had finished her story?  What if I'd had more of we?

What if?

Hold her tight, if you have her; hold her tight....

Those words above are Francisco Goldman's words.  Found toward the end of a book he calls a novel—a story inspired by, required by, the premature death of his young wife, Aura, who wanted to surf a wave but was ruined by a wave, hammered against the floor of the sea.  Say Her Name (due out from Grove/Atlantic in April) is 350 pristine pages of reckoning with the impossible.  It is the story of a man's irresistible love for his wife, the story of a fractured heart, the waking to the daily blare:  Aura is not here.

Goldman calls this a novel, and I respect his choice.  It doesn't matter, though, not this time, whatever the book is called, for Say Her Name is a staggering collage of back and forth, the living and the dead, the alive and whole, the just barely breathing.  It is heart, all heart, on the page.  It is brilliantly structured, a love affair, a tragedy, a work of fine emotional suspense.  Last week, in my memoir class, a student asked a question about time, about how to hold the dispersion of many years inside a tight fist, how to locate her themes in a succession of anecdotals.  How do you take, in other words (not her words now, but my words), the glimmers and the shadows, the big things and the small things, the imagined, the actual, the not fully known, the never-to-be-reckoned with and make them a coherent, non-linear whole?

The answer to that question lies here, in Say Her Name.


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