Have you read Love In The Time Of Cholera? Have you been as enchanted by it as so many people and big reviewers seem to have been? The Christian Science Monitor thinks it’s
boldly romantic, profoundly imaginative, fully imagined work of fiction that expands our sense of life’s infinite possibilities.
I don’t quite grasp the difference between “profoudly imaginative” and “fully imagined” but “life’s infinite possibilities” must refer to the enduring devotion of Florentino, the presumed hero, to the heroine, Fermina. Though she rejects him in her youth to marry Dr. Urbino, a more socially and physically attractive man, Florentino gets his just rewards decades later after the doctor dies. He and Fermina sail away together, comfortable if not ecstatic in their mature love.
That is, of course, after Florentino has cavorted with 622 other sexual liaisons during those years of being apart.
While 622 elicits skepticism (mine, at least, since the author gives Florentino less than attractive attributes except for an endearing way with words), that large number of conquests might not be impossible. After all, some famous people have reported 1000 or more sexual partners—not lovers, most likely, because that would imply a deeper emotional relationship. Consider, however, that that lover of lovers, Giacomo Casanova, only claimed having slept with 122 individuals. Frisky Fidel Castro, in contrast, would stay unbeatable with 35,000 feathers on his sexual cap.
Still, this factoid of 622 aventures d’un soir, makes Garcia Marquez’s Love, etc. story sound a bit ridiculous. Is he playing a trick on the reader? Exulting or laughing at the vaunted virility of the Latin American man? Or bolstering the confidence of shy, not-so-desirable men—even a Florentino can be a Valentino if he has a sweet tongue? Maybe, he’s testing our gullibility, our readiness to believe stories told by a Literature Nobel laureate no matter how incredulous they seem to be?
Add the subplot of a fourteen year-old falling in love with a seventy year-old Florentino and the novel passes from ridiculous to absurd. Maybe, I think this way because this particular affair offends me morally. The same way an adult Aureliano Buendia’s amorous feelings for a nine-year old did in One Hundred Years of Solitude. What is it about Garcia Marquez and heroes who’re pedophiles? Does he mean to be provocative, especially to men who might be titillated by such relationships? Flirting with Nabokov, maybe?
It might be obvious by now that I was not enchanted by Love, etc. But I have to understand why someone no less than enigmatic media-hater critically-acclaimed Thomas Pynchon praises the book in 1988 as a “shining and heartbreaking novel” with “an astonishing final chapter, sure in its dynamics and tempo.”
I do agree that Garcia Marquez writes with a sure hand and a florid style that can sometimes delight. It’s a style that must sit well with Pynchon’s way with words, at least as judged from his review of Love, etc.. But style and a sure hand aren’t enough to convince me this book is “shining and heartbreaking.”
Many romance novels live on because you suspend belief when you read them, taking them with a grain of salt and a sense of fun. But you’re supposed to regard Love, etc. as serious, classic literature. It’s supposed to reveal some profound truths about life. Surely, all those gushing reviewers must have seen something in the novel that I apparently missed.
I get that Fermina is the love of Florentino’s life and he wins her towards the end of their lives. Sweet, and maybe unusual. I’m afraid, though, that my 21st century feminist sensibility is simply tired of this book’s characters and plot lines. I don’t believe anything profound or unusual is happening beneath the hero’s desire to win the heroine, even if it takes forever. I think Garcia Marquez is having fun taking his readers for a not-so bumpy ride through one of the many paths of a familiar territory.
One thing clear enough to me is Pynchon’s view that Garcia Marquez has moved on from magical realism to a vision he characterizes as “expanded, matured, darker.” And very likely, Pynchon is right. Garcia Marquez was 17 years older when he finished Love, etc. By then, if people mature as they should, they would most likely have lost their romantic notions or at least assumed a more complex, darker view of love.
To me, though, the shedding of “magical” has also diminished the uniqueness of Garcia Marquez.