L (and Things Come Apart)
But in his café, Henry is king. He is the shepherd of a cohort of equally lost men, including two fellows named Laplante and Lachaise, who could have escaped from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and various vagrants. Outside the café, transit strikes and blizzards rage, and everyone has plenty to complain about. Nietzsche said it best: “There is a small dose of revenge in every complaint.” Immobile and impotent, the men in Henry’s café participate in the outside world by complaining about it.
L’s arrival creates a small stir in Henry’s blood, though he is extremely slow out of the blocks. “I’m not asking you to sleep with me,” L assures him, and only then does she succeed in getting him to follow her upstairs. There, he fusses with his remaining plumes of hair until L suggests she might cut it all off so he’ll have nothing to fidget with. “You’re a bald man,” she tells him. “You should wear it proudly.”
Of course, a woman who turns up out of nowhere has to have a secret, a backstory, and L is no exception. For an experimental work, Orti makes some pretty conventional choices when it comes to villains. A threatening-looking, faceless man begins skulking around the
building under cover of darkness, and we understand that he represents L’s past. Perhaps this man is her father; perhaps he is a wronged party of some kind. In any case, he is Fate, and there is no escaping him. Henry, just as passive with L as he is with his wife, waits for the threat to show its face.
Which happens soon enough. The man attacks, and we learn that L’s blood is black. Perhaps because she is a text, since a collection of burnt papers seems to be at the origin of the man’s vengeance. If there is any central character in this book, it is the act of writing itself. Henry dies in the attack, but does not die. What is striking, though, is that when Henry’s wife hears of her husband’s death (he does return in the following chapters), we learn that he was the one who deserted her, emotionally, many years ago. The surprise is a good one: Henry moves suddenly from victim to victimizer.
The world Orti has created is absurd and claustrophobic, a place of immobility, and it conjures up images of Eastern Europe with its defeated men who come together in the few spaces left for them. This is a singular vision in our world of vast space and opportunity. mRb