Sasha Martinez's Reviews > Asleep in the Sun

Asleep in the Sun by Adolfo Bioy Casares
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Nov 22, 11

bookshelves: 2010, nyrb-classics

It’s a slim novel, a little surreal [then again, I have a high tolerance, so this is relative], a quick read — perfect for a few hours of downtime.

Before we plunge into the book itself, let me say that the jacket copy is weirdness. On one hand, it’s extremely inaccurate; on another, it’s a major spoiler: a revelation — a surprise twist, the surprise twist — was broadcast the moment you flipped the book over from the bookstore shelf. That’s quite an accomplishment. It was like whoever wrote the copy opened the book at random, and then skipped to the end.

It was extremely vital that I get over the copy stat if I were to enjoy the book itself. You know how confusing it is, trying to balance expectations and reality when expectations are the deal-breaker? I was a third into the novel when I realized I had to stop hating on the book — “What happened to what the back of the book promised me?!” — since it didn’t do anything wrong. I was complaining about how slow the action was, how Casares spent a lot of time introducing and introducing and building ceaselessly on the background. I had to keep things in perspective: That so-called slowness is the novel. That is, that’s the narrative, the story. I wouldn’t call Toy Story 3 slow for showing how things were between the toys pre-Sunnyside, and definitely not slow while they were in Sunnyside. [You still with me?] See, I was promised the wrong things, and so I rejected the right things when they came to me. Moving on:

So. Lucio Bordenave is a guy who likes to keep things simple. He’s happy enough with his life, he knows what he loves. He’s a nice guy. But Casares just knows how to shake things up a bit. Lucio has lost his job, so he opened a watch-making / watch-repairing business that isn’t doing so well at the moment. The neighborhood is one of the most opinionated Greek choruses I’ve ever encountered. He lives with Ceferina, as surly a loving housekeeper / second mother as any. He has to contend with his wife’s family — the doting and bossy father-in-law, the sly widower sister-in-law and her demon-child. And, of course, there is Lucio’s wife, the beautiful Diana, whom he dearly loves. And that Diana is equal parts shrew and spoiled brat. Lucio admits that she “can be difficult.” Aha.

His wife gets sent to an asylum on the suggestion of a professor specializing in canines. Because, according to the good doctor, “The incapacity to make decisions, demonstrated by Missus Diana, who can’t decide which pooch she wants, is not usual in people in their right minds.” Yes.

Casares has a steady hand with the magical realism, with the ridiculousness – But what made Asleep in the Sun really work for me was how playful it is. A lot of this rests on the main character: Lucio could be a caricature, at times an idiot-savant in a farcical sketch — for example, how comically stubborn he can be in his love for his wife, but how earnest he remains. But that playfulness takes the heavy-boots thrust of theme — identity; what is it exactly that we love? — into a really sensitive, if charming, reflection.

Doppelgängers, body doubles, body snatchers. They’re icing on the cake. It’s Lucio’s perceptions that make the theme-tackling honest. While his wife stayed in the asylum, her jealous and man-hungry sister, Adriana María, moves into the house with her son. What ensues is a rather bewildering seduction — mostly because Lucio is so immune to it due to his absolute love for Diana. But then, but then: One night, missing his wife so much, he comes home, and thinks he sees Diana. But it is only Adriana María — the sisters look so much alike, it’s almost only a difference in hair color, a difference nullified by nighttime. And Lucio thinks this through, so shaken he is by this slight against Diana — how could he mistake anyone for her?

Is she just her hair, or even less, the wave of her hair on her shoudlers, and the shape of her body and the way she sits?

Later on, Lucio adopts a dog for his wife, for when she finally comes home [as soon as Lucio reclaims Diana, that is]. A lovely dog, an easy-to-get-along-with dog. Who happens to be called, well, Diana. And I’ll let Lucio speak for himself:

If I think of the attraction I feel for this dog, I say to myself, With Diana, the missus, the same thing occurs. Don’t I adore in her, above all, that unique face, those deep and marvelous eyes, the color of her skin and hair, the shape of her body, of her hands, and that smell in which I could lose myself forever with my eyes closed.

Intense dog love, yes, but that’s the whole point. It’s not so much a blurring of identities — Casares makes it more subtle than that [and, frankly, I don't think Lucio can take that issue head-on]. By having the dog’s name the same as Lucio’s wife, Casares oh-so-neatly presents a terrible conundrum for our hero: Am I so gullible? Do I love the right way? Why do I love what I love?

It’s a neat little book. Slim, like I said. It didn’t knock my socks off, mostly because the jacket copy irreparably annihilated true impressions of the first third of the book. But it was extremely satisfying, not to mention the fact that it’s made me hungry for Casares’ The Invention of Morel . I mean, back to basics: I would never have picked this book up if it hadn’t all but fallen onto my lap. But I am glad I did. Morel, on the other hand, I’ve been actively hunting for; that story is right up my alley.


[Review from July 2010]

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