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Sex, rum and classical music

Pedro Juan Gutiérrez 'novel "The Insatiable Spider Man" outlines the everyday life of the Cuban lower class

From Felix Köther

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The most exciting and valuable thing about Pedro Juan Gutiérrez '"The Insatiable Spider Man", the fourth novel in his Havana cycle, is still the precise description of the world and everyday life of the Cuban lower class. It is a pity, however, that the reader needs a bit of patience to work their way through to it: It often only appears like an inevitable waste product next to crude, vulgar and often banal everyday descriptions and memories of the first-person narrator.

However, it is quickly recognizable as the author's alter ego, as in many other Gutiérrez books, such as the novels "Dirty Havanna Trilogy" and "Animal Tropical" [see literaturkritik.de 4/2002 and 2/2005]. Like Gutierrez, he lives in the dirty old town of Havana, was born in 1950, like the author, is a writer, painter and was a journalist. He is essentially only interested in sex - preferably with black women or mulatto women of all ages -, rum, classical music, cigars and his roof terrace, from which he observes the city or the sea. Religion, politics and his wife, on the other hand, don't interest him very much. He no longer likes the latter, but is too fatalistic to throw her out of the house and cheats on her as often as possible anyway.

In return, the reader may soon no longer like him himself. "The Insatiable Spider Man" is a rather short-lived book without any significant tension or structure. It consists of almost twenty small episodes and chapters, most of which could stand on their own, in which the protagonist talks about his everyday life or memories, and which almost all consist of three main components: the sexual adventures, affairs and boasting about the potency and "insane erection" of the main character; her memories and reflections on herself - "I, the best of all." - and any kind of relationship between men and women. In addition, there is the Cuban everyday life of the poor, lower classes of Havana with the hope for better times, the veneration of saints, the search for meat or simply other food than rice and beans, the police, quick jobs and last but not least that machismo of Latin American societies, which reaches a grotesque climax here.

From the outset, the reader should not even seek literary standards. Gutiérrez loves to provoke, and even if he is not, he sometimes does not get beyond the vulgar or the banal, which he does not seem to intend at all. Already on the first pages of the book the rape of a lover in New York's Central Park, which is completely irrelevant for the rest of the book, is described in a drastic and graphic way - both of which are definitely Gutiérrez's qualities. Later, for example, many pages further on, the narrator dreams of how he is in the moonlight on a construction site by the sea, two cows appear, who take turns licking piles of asphalt and cooling their feet in the sea - and he finally has an erection wakes up: "My cock is rock hard." After briefly indulging in memories of body parts of a lover, he encourages his wife to have oral sex, but she quickly gives up. She is not feeling well because she has diarrhea. A little later he becomes ill himself for a short time - "I'm feeling very bad. Maybe distilled shit, that is, dangerous poisons, is getting into my sparrow's brain."

"Uff!", The reader might think in Gutiérrez 'writing style, or perhaps - in a more original moment - "arrrghh !!!". However, both only if he is not just holding his head without a word.

The author is by no means linguistically original, varied or even poetic in his descriptions, on the contrary. It would be pointless to try to count words like "fuck" or "tail".

That is actually a shame, because a few nice little stories - for example about fishing in a tractor tire on the sea or as a reporter at the height of socialistism - can be found once you have fought your way to the middle of the book. The narrator's love for classical music by Mahler, Handel and "Kumpel Brahms" can not only be found there, but according to previous, hearty descriptions this sometimes seems a bit strange.

In an interview with the “Tageszeitung”, Gutiérrez said while the novel was being written in 2002: “What happens around me serves me as raw material. If the people around me are macho and authoritarian and live in misery, I can do them Don't twist reality after all! [...] So far I have written very autobiographically, excessively autobiographically. "

One thing has to be left to him: he is more pictorial and describes the conditions in his immediate surroundings more vividly than any photo or illustrated book could, is melancholy and excessive at the same time. In the end, one is confronted with a dilemma: even if the literary achievement of this book can often be described as minor, it cannot be denied a certain degree of obscene entertaining, because Gutiérrez undoubtedly offers that.

Pedro Juan Gutierrez: The Insatiable Spider Man. Novel.
Translated from Spanish by Michael Maier.
Hoffmann and Campe Verlag, Hamburg 2006.
256 pages, 17.95 EUR.
ISBN-10: 3455400140

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