John Updike on Gabriel García Márquez

John Updike in The New Yorker:

GabrielThe works of Gabriel García Márquez contain a great deal of love, depicted as a doom, a demonic possession, a disease that, once contracted, cannot be easily cured. Not infrequently the afflicted are an older man and a younger woman, hardly more than a child. In “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967; English translation 1970), Aureliano Buendía visits a very young whore:

The adolescent mulatto girl, with her small bitch’s teats, was naked on the bed. Before Aureliano sixty-three men had passed through the room that night. From being used so much, kneaded with sweat and sighs, the air in the room had begun to turn to mud. The girl took off the soaked sheet and asked Aureliano to hold it by one side. It was as heavy as a piece of canvas. They squeezed it, twisting it at the ends until it regained its natural weight. They turned over the mat and the sweat came out of the other side. Aureliano was anxious for that operation never to end.

Her condition is pitiable:

Her back was raw. Her skin was stuck to her ribs and her breathing was forced because of an immeasurable exhaustion. Two years before, far away from there, she had fallen asleep without putting out the candle and had awakened surrounded by flames. The house where she lived with the grandmother who had raised her was reduced to ashes. Since then her grandmother carried her from town to town, putting her to bed for twenty cents in order to make up the value of the burned house. According to the girl’s calculations, she still had ten years of seventy men per night, because she also had to pay the expenses of the trip and food for both of them.

Aureliano does not take advantage of her overexploited charms, and leaves the room “troubled by a desire to weep.” He has—you guessed it—fallen in love:

He felt an irresistible need to love her and protect her. At dawn, worn out by insomnia and fever, he made the calm decision to marry her in order to free her from the despotism of her grandmother and to enjoy all the nights of satisfaction that she would give the seventy men.

This curious blend of the squalid and the enchanted—perhaps not so curious in the social context of the author’s native Colombia in the years of his youth—returns, five years later, in the long short story “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother” (translated 1978), which was made into a movie from a script by the author.

More here.