This story is from a book called “War by Betalight”… er, I’m sorry, that’s “War by Candlelight,” by Daniel Alarcón. I started this story while sitting on the can, and gave up after only two paragraphs! Can you tell why? How many beta tropes can you count here? Let’s see…
“A Science for Being Alone”
Every year on Mayra’s birthday, since she turned one, I have asked Sonia to marry me.
1. Multiple, yearly marriage proposals. Reminds me of this guy. Incidentally, if you want to sweep a girl off her feet, and proposing marriage over and over again is the best your ball-less self can think of, for Christ sake, don’t do it on the same damn day every year. That girl knows it’s coming and as the days approach she’s probably dreading it with a sinking sensation in her stomach. You think she’s going to say yes all of the sudden? Sometimes I think half of all men’s problems with girls would go away if they would put themselves in the girl’s shoes for a single goddamn second. Idiot.
This year our little girl turned five. Each rejection has its own story, but until recently, before the two of them left, I preferred to think of these moments as one long, unfinished conversation.
2. “I preferred to think of these moments as one long, unfinished conversation.” That’s funny. I think your baby mama thought the conversation was finished when she said “No,” four proposals ago. Of course it is the mark of the beta to think that if he just grovels just a leetle beet more, she’s going to come around.
Mayra’s fifth fell on a hot, bright day. I had twenty five soles in my pocket, the ring, and a little makeup kit I’d bought for my daughter. I was at the Plaza Manco Capac, waiting for a spot at the lunch counter of a cheap criollo place before heading over to see the women of my life.
3. “…the women of my life.” Gag.
Sonia and Mayra lived in a hostel downtown. […] She got the adventurous, the young and unshaven, the backpackers in their inimitable style, wearing vests with dozens of pockets or pants that unzip to become parachutes or inflatable rafts. Americans and Germans and French. For years Sonia occasionally took one to bed,
4.Embracing the cuckold’s horns. “Occasionally took one to bed” Translation: she fucked them all the time, but you only found out about it occasionally, or you knew deep down but are too much of a coward to face the truth.
but I never thought these flings amounted to much. In a way, I was proud of our modern arrangement,
5. I was proud of our modern arrangement… Wait. You propose marriage every year on the same day, while in between she fucks dirty, scraggly German hippies and you are proud? Oh, please fuck you.
which I thought approximated those slippery, ambiguous, but ultimately loving relationships I’d seen on American sitcoms. We had our special anniversaries, our traditions, and Mayra’s birthday was one of them. It was the day we pretended we were a family still or that we once had been. It was the day I proposed with subtle fanfare that we become one.
6. “… relationships I’d seen on American sitcoms.” Ahh… there we go. Now it’s starting to make sense. Anyone who takes manhood tips from characters on American sitcoms is doomed to eternal castration, not to mention weak humor.
I know, I know. This is just a character in a book. I didn’t rip on Shakespeare for making Mark Antony a little bitch; I praised him. Well, I guess I am assuming in Shakespeare and Daniel Alarcón differing levels of authorial command and irony. Is that unfair? Why no, I don’t believe it is.
Here’s Señor Alarcón:
(source: Correo of Peru)
In any case, if Alarcón is actually a manly beast on the prowl in real life (and of course, he’s a successful writer so he could probably pull mad artist-girl/lit-crit-grad-school pussy if he has even a smidge of game), and if he’s just inhabiting the mind of a beta for the purposes of the story, I guess that’s okay, but I really wish he would stop. Who wants to read about these kinds of characters?
Wait, stop, I know the answer already… the people who want to read about these characters are the people who act and feel like them and want to see their pathetic, gray lives limned with a little fancy prose and somehow elevated to tragic poetry. If you want some elevation, may I suggest learning how to fly a helicopter instead?. Mopey narrators who shuffle their way through life and then try to beautify their own shitty behavior… Zarathustra! Verily, I do declare, this is what’s wrong with modern fiction.
Incidentally, upon deciding to write a little blog post about this story intro, I forced myself to finish the rest of the story. The narrator tries to give some bananas to a poor prostitute as an act of kindness, and he is baffled when she takes it as an insult (this is the one thing that makes me think Alarcón might actually be wise to his beta narrator rather than in cahoots with him… a man giving a woman a mushy banana instead of a hard cock, do I detect wry symbolism? … but then he muses philosophico-poetic on what’s wrong with the world to make her so hostile, so I really don’t think he gets it). Then he sees his daughter and baby-mama. Then he proposes yet again. The end. The last paragraph of the story:
I am a man of traditions, and because I am that man, I bent down on one knee, again, one final time. Sunlight gathered in the room, a breeze circled and blew the curtains apart. Sonia shook her head—no, no—but I kept on. My daughter had clambered back on the bed and sat, her legs underneath her, watching us as if it were theater. And there were no trumpets or violins or sounds at all. Only quiet. I took the ring from the inside of my jacket. “Sonia,” I said, and played my last card, and so, regret nothing.
It’s that last line that is most contemptible. It’s meant to be resonant, like any good last line, but the only thing that resonates here is self-absorption and delusion. Alarcón apparently thinks this narrator’s yearly proposals really constitute giving one’s all. Last card?? That’s the only card he’s ever even tried! He never puts himself in her situation, never considers what a woman might desire from her man, that it might not be groveling, predictability and an oh-so-delicate sensibility. Never tries to grow a pair; just goes around giving bananas to hookers and musing about his own feelings. Really, truly, I find this kind of fiction abhorrent. The self-pity it exudes is positively toxic.
Well, enough dwelling on this crap… I’m off to finish my Patrick O’Brian book! Captain Jack Aubrey… now there’s a character with a pair of brass ones.
/rips shirt off and runs out onto the street