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Joining the Year of the Star Read-Along

Dear Common Readers,

How I’ve missed you! Please forgive my prolonged silence over the past six months. I got a bit overwhelmed by an autumn class, holiday preparations, and a tumultuous political season. I’ve finally caught my breath and found my balance again. It is with great pleasure (and relief) that I return to my literary studies. What better way to ease back into book blogging than by joining a short-story read-along?

Juliana of the [blank] garden is hosting The Year of the Star, a read-along of The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, a 20th-century Brazilian writer. This new English translation by Katrina Dodson (New Directions Books, 2015) is the first time all of Ms. Lispector’s stories have been collected in one volume in any language.

The read-along began on February 6, 2017, but there’s plenty of time to catch up, especially since Juliana thoughtfully provides a few catch-up weeks in the schedule. Besides, we only have to read 2 stories per week to keep the pace. You can find the schedule and more details about the read-along here.

I’m so thankful to Juliana for introducing me to this collection. These stories are right up my alley. I love Ms. Lispector’s sly humor and the way she subverts the readers’ expectations in the first four stories.

 

HALT! Spoilers Ahead. If you haven’t read “The Triumph” or “Fever Dream” or “Jimmy and I” by Clarice Lispector and don’t wish to be spoiled, please turn back now (but please come back after you’ve read them). If you can’t resist, proceed at your own risk.

 

“The Triumph”

I enjoyed Ms. Lispector’s use of the weather in this story. Normally the story of the day a woman wakes up and realizes her man is really gone this time would be set on a bleak, cold day or a dreary rainy day, but Ms. Lispector breaks with that tradition. Instead, as the story opens,

The bright stain of sunlight lengthens little by little over the lawn. It goes climbing up the red wall of the house, making the ivy glisten in a thousand dewy lights. It finds an opening, the window. It penetrates. And suddenly takes possession of the room, slipping past the light curtains standing guard…The heat of the sun and its brightness fill the room. (p. 3) [ellipses mine]

I liked the way Ms. Lispector changes Luisa, the protagonist, from a seemingly stereotypical clingy, dependent woman into a surprisingly resilient protagonist with this moment of epiphany as Luisa gazes around her and out the window:

In fact, she hadn’t noticed any of this. She’d always lived there with him. He was everything. He alone existed. He was gone. And things hadn’t entirely lost their charm. They had a life of their own. (p. 7)

I wondered if the title might be ironic. Luisa’s triumph is the discovery that Jorge needs her more than she needs him. (He needs her to blame for his own feelings of mediocrity as a writer). “He’d be back because she was the stronger one.” (p. 8) Is this true or is she just deluding herself about his return? Either way, she knows now that she can live — happily even — without him. That in itself is a triumph over her past feelings of dependency.

While I enjoyed the somewhat ambiguous ending, I couldn’t help wishing that Luisa would instead focus on all the things she never noticed while she was consumed with her relationship with Jorge instead of exulting in what she feels is his inevitable return.

 

“Obsession”

I found this story so meaty that I want to devote an entire post solely to exploring this story and the connection of its themes to the works of other women writers.

 

 “Fever Dream”

The title dream is an interesting allegory about artistic creativity. One might even stretch a bit and apply it to the environment as well. While the story does have a male protagonist using childbirth as a metaphor for artistic creation, one could possibly argue that the allegory continues Ms. Lispector’s theme from “The Triumph” and “Obsession” about women’s ultimate strength.

 

“Jimmy and I”

I loved this witty story about a young woman who follows her mother’s advice to always go along with the man’s ideas. This backfires on poor Jimmy, the man in question, who angrily rejects our heroine when he learns that she followed his theory to its logical conclusion. This becomes her bewildered introduction to male double standards.

Only the change in Jimmy continued to fascinate me. It’s such a good theory! (p. 56)

 

It’s far too soon for me to make any sweeping statements just yet about Ms. Lispector’s work. I can say that I am enjoying these stories so far and look forward to reading more of them. If you read (or have already read) these stories, let me know what you think of them.

 

Your sister reader,
Ms. Arachne