Esteban del Mal's Reviews > Discoveries: Fifty Stories of the Quest, 2nd Edition

Discoveries by Harold Schechter
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's review
May 06, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: essay-novella-shorts, fiction

This collection of short stories is an anodyne assemblage from some of the more recognizable authors in the naive-Jungian/Joseph Campbellovian/archetypal tradition. And since I am a naive Jungian/Campbellovian/archetypal sort, I like it.

It also was my first encounter with Julio Cortazar, whose piece titled The Island at Noon haunts me still and drew me to it as I cleaned my study today. If you don't want to know what happens, don't read any further; if you do and you have read this far, my naive-Jungian analysis is that you're a masochist with control issues and with a lifestyle that has set you on a path toward early onset dementia.

Too close to the mark? Tough. We naive-Jungians keep it real.

The central theme of this six-page story is the reclamation of lost innocence. The story's protagonist, Marini, is a man compelled to abandon the monotonous drudgery of his day-to-day existence for an idealized life. The catalyst for this change is a small, idyllic island that he espies -- or, more appropriately, which imposes itself upon his psyche -- during a flight over the Aegean Sea. Yet, it is his single-minded regard for the island that proves to be his undoing. The tale is a cautionary one: Marini is so interwoven with the inertia of his life that he cannot extricate himself from it without dire consequences.

As a steward for an Italian airline whose route includes such pastoral beauty as the Greek Isles, Marini is a modern Narcissus: Disinterested as he is with his job, "wondering, bored," presenting a practiced and professional smile to passengers, he is distant to his co-workers and patrons alike. But this detachment is a defense, a willful alienation from the bourgeois values and growing commodification of a post-war world where he finds himself both participant and enabler. Marini has talked himself into his predicament, settling for the Rome-Teheran line because the flight is "less gloomy than the northern lines, and the girls seemed happy to go to the Orient or to get to know Italy." Still, the island forces him from his stasis, at first "small and solitary," but quickly morphing into "an unmistakable shape, like a turtle whose paws were barely out of the water" as his airliner passes overhead.

The ocean surrounding the island is the womb-pool, "with an intense blue that exalted the curl of dazzling and kind of petrified white." The dynamism of raw Nature cuts through Marini's imposed rationalizations and worldview, and soon his passage over the island becomes a ritual: consulting his watch for the anticipated noon hour, witnessing the first vision of the sea breaking against its coast, and identifying with the island's population. He takes to collecting all things Greek and seduces a woman in a cabaret with his knowledge of the language.

"Nothing was difficult once decided," muses Marini. In his mind's eye, he travels to the island and befriends a family of fishermen who quickly exhaust their English in talking with him. The significance of the lack of a common tongue is two-fold: It demonstrates the extent to which the island is unlike the rest of the touristy Mediterranean, and it demonstrates that the spoken word is no longer needed because it is a signifier of duality. Marini understands this, becoming "impregnated" by the island, enjoying it with such intimacy that he becomes "incapable of thinking or choosing." Women, a marker of sensuality and an easy routine for the handsome Marini, now flee from him, "astonished"; but boys, a reminder of childhood and innocence, embrace him as an equal. He floats lazily in the ocean, accepting it all "in a single act of conciliation that was also a name for the future."

But history isn't done with Marini: Self-knowledge is self-destructive when it atrophies. At noon, "unable to fight against all that past," the jetliner crashes into the ocean just a hundred yards from the island. Marini, as was his custom when passing the island, is at the tail end of the craft and manages to make it to shore before bleeding to death from a gash in his neck. The island's natural impregnation is too violent and too much for a man accustomed to the artifice of American-style hair cuts and Hilton bar vodka-limes. He was right -- nothing is difficult once it is decided upon; his fault comes only in deciding too late.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Wait, are you the naive kind or not? Maybe there is only the naive kind.

Esteban del Mal I refuse to stand behind anything I wrote, for it is the sabbath.

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