By Carlos Maleno
Translated by Eric Kurtzke
Publication Date: 12/13/2022
A disquieting, haunting work, The Endless Rose begins when a one-legged woman’s manuscript is accepted by a small publishing house consisting of two friends. Stunned and excited by her writing, they invite her to visit them in the south of Spain.
The hypnotic, gut-wrenching events that follow—revolving around a brutal murder mentioned in the book’s first pages—are plunged into an atmosphere of dreams, violence, and bizarre coincidence.
Maleno has managed to distill a mash of Michel Houellebecq (who figures as a character here), Roberto Bolaño (The Endless Rose takes its title from a fictional novel mentioned in the Chilean’s posthumous masterpiece), and Enrique Vila-Matas (whose technique of textured allusion Maleno has mastered) into a strange brew that is all his own.
The Part about the Drownings in the Desert
JUST TWO MONTHS before a car on Avenida Álvarez Jonte in Buenos Aires ran over a 14-year-old girl named Paula Boccia, who was rushed to the emergency room, where she lost a leg, Roberto—now done with his university studies and coming off a string of relationships all marked by the same disillusioned end—married a tall blond girl, a year or two younger than even he was.
Her name was Cristina, and he’d met her through common friends at a New Year’s Eve party. She was tall and thin, with skinny, even somewhat bony legs. She had a moody and difficult disposition, interrupted by periods when she would overflow with love and affection for him. Roberto married her after only five months together, and after coming out the other side of a severe depression. Maybe he owed his recovery to the psychiatric treatment he’d undergone, but really, as he’d always known—and it was the reason for everything—he owed it to Cristina.
During that depression, for the second time in his life, Roberto had wanted to die. The first time came when he was just a boy, and then, as later, he would clamp his eyes shut, breathe deeply, and think of a deserted, rocky beach in winter, and of a woman’s lukewarm hand, and this is what saved him. Then came Cristina’s scrawny, lukewarm hand on his forehead.
Afterward, he married her, intending to lead a peaceful life, without surprises. He tried to understand his wife, who was so different from himself, with such different interests, all of them far removed from the love of reading that Roberto had always harbored—and which had only deepened since his adolescence. While there were continual flare-ups between them, they both had stable jobs and certain common objectives, almost all of a material nature, and this helped to strike a balance in their marital existence.
But, in fact, they led separate lives, and while she spent her free time going shopping or drinking coffee with a couple friends—which was almost all of them—Roberto read Somerset Maugham, André Gide, Chekhov, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Monterroso, Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Bernhard, Hardy, Hemingway, Borges, Sebald, Mann, and Carver. He read a strange novel by Felipe Hernández that he found disturbing. He read Sábato, Valente, Justo Navarro, Alan Pauls, Coetzee, Roth, Houellebecq, Vila-Matas, Ford, Huxley, Céline, Walser, Gombrowicz, Bolaño—more than anyone, Bolaño. He read the apocalyptic, claustrophobic, and only novel by the illustrator Alfred Kubin, a friend of Kafka’s, which he wrote during a creative crisis and then illustrated himself. He also read Alejandra Pizarnik, Nicanor Parra, Lorca, and Panero, whom at first he considered a mere lunatic, only to later think he’d been wrong, that he was in the presence of a genius, only to once more change his mind and consider him a lunatic again, but at the same time a genius. He read many others, others whom he forgot quickly, and in anger. Because just as one can hate in anger, punch, work, look back, or weep in anger, one can also forget in anger. There are those who try to forget in the purest anger, on the largest scale, but can’t, and then only the anger remains—nothing else. Primo Levi was such a person. He could never forget Auschwitz.
As for their sex life, it could be said that this was a unifying nexus for the couple, since it was satisfying for both, and these two people, who seemed so different and between whom it seemed there could be no understanding or bond, would mutate into two beings who wanted each other in bed.
After a year of being together, Cristina became pregnant. And while, to her mind, the pregnancy was a cause for celebration, it filled Roberto with doubts and regrets. So, that morning, only a month and a half into her pregnancy, when she started bleeding, and they confirmed in the hospital that she’d had a miscarriage, he couldn’t avoid feeling a relief that later turned against him, until he came to see himself as a total monster. This feeling of guilt, combined with remorse and his secret debt to Cristina for having helped him out of his depression, made him bend over backward for his wife from that day on. He took pains to do everything in his power to help her through that difficult time, which had left her psychologically drained.
He tried to be understanding, affectionate, and patient with her. He encouraged her to go out with her friends, and when Cristina refused to leave the house, persuaded one of them, the one he considered to be the closest, to come pay her regular visits.
The initial coffee chats with this silent Cristina, who looked so out of place, gave way at Roberto’s suggestion to eclectic movie nights. These showings were normally scheduled for Thursday evenings and attended by Cristina’s two or three best friends.
One evening, after he’d come home from work and before going to take a shower and then to the bedroom to read, he went into the living room, where Cristina was joined in one of these showings by a friend of hers and another girl whom he didn’t know and who looked much younger than the other two.
After a few brief, friendly words of greeting, he went to the bathroom of the master bedroom. Once in the bathroom, he closed the door, rolled up his sleeves, turned on the tap, and washed his face at the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror as the water ran down the drain. He thought he noticed a long hair on his upper lip, he looked closer, moving his face toward the mirror. It wasn’t just one hair, there were several—long and black. He wondered how on earth he’d managed to miss them that morning and the one before, because hairs like those didn’t spring up in a single day. He decided that he had to take better care of himself, be more scrupulous in his morning routine. The steam began to fog up the mirror, and his reflection changed into a simple silhouette. The last clear part of his face that he saw was his right cheek and his upper lip with the black hairs. Like a rat’s whiskers, he said to himself. Then he imagined a rat. A rat slinking home to its rat hole in the sewers, tired from its work. A rat laborer, or maybe a rat mechanic, or a rat journalist, no, most likely it would be a rat policeman, or better yet, a rat detective. Then he heard a groan, almost a whimper, a clear expression of pain. He imagined a rat being killed on the other side of the closed door, in another room of the rat hole. But they were in the sewers, he remembered, and there weren’t any predators there, there were only rats. And a rat never kills another rat. His mind wandered again from his train of thought, he repeated that phrase: A rat never kills another rat. He had read it somewhere, but he couldn’t remember where. He heard the rat whimper again, above the sound of what seemed to be a movie in the background. He turned off the tap and left the bathroom. In the living room he saw the rats. Cristina—one of the rats—was sobbing and hugging her friend, her crying apparently growing more and more inconsolable. The young girl (the young rat) remained seated in another armchair, in silence. At some point somebody turned off the TV. Cristina needed to lie down, and without letting go of their clinging hug, her friend took her to the bedroom. Roberto was left alone in the living room, with the young woman, listening to the muffled sobs that came down the hallway through the closed door.