WINTER 2013 (Issue 77)

Ali Rachel Pearl

13 Notes for Reading Mario Benedetti’s The Rest is Jungle & Other Stories

1. A poet friend of mine who recently, suddenly, passed away once wrote, “This I love about physical books–how the particular feel, weight, color of everything become not just delivery conduits but as well signatures of the moments of our reading and of ourselves as we grew through and with those books.”

2. Mario Benedetti was born along a river in the center of Uruguay. Mario Benedetti died on the edge of Uruguay, on the coast, in a city by the sea. I am reading his book of short stories, The Rest is Jungle, recently translated into English, from one of his residences in exile: Buenos Aires. I am writing this review from the two countries that parenthesize his home country. No one I’ve met in the United States knows his work. Everyone I’ve met in South America reveres him.

3. “Because Maria penetrated conquered territory and settled there” (Benedetti 11).

4. Many of the characters and situations in The Rest is Jungle lack the specific kind of detail that builds place and person. The few provided details are more like structures than content. Some characters are only named by certain physical or situational attributes: “the skinny man,” “the prisoner.” There is a surface past which we cannot see, a history we cannot immediately penetrate, that is for us and is not for us. You get the sense reading these stories that someone is screaming out to you, trying to tell you something they can’t say, trying to use general structures, simple gestures, to capture your attention and open a space for you in which you can explore the depths that you know are there, but that you can’t quite see.

5. Each year I come to South America to inhabit a history that is not my own.

6. There are distinct, defined instances of change in each story. A character will hyperbolically claim that at one particular moment, everything changed. Or something changed. Or, distinctly, nothing changed. And yet the change itself, whatever was brought about, whatever content actually morphed or altered, is either not narrated or is particularly difficult to identify. Only the mention of the occurrence of something pivotal. The rest is disappeared. Is hidden. Is not for you.

7. “Subversion had slipped into his own home” (Benedetti 64).

8. All the South American history I ever learned I never learned in any North American history class.

9. What I can give you is a structure. A list of materials. A list of details. I can provide spaces in between words out of which you can come to understand these stories. Anything more would be doing Benedetti’s collection a disservice. Anything more would be overstating everything that Benedetti so flawlessly, so smoothly offers his reader. Stories open to being inhabited only by those willing to do the work of penetrating concurred territory, of envisioning a history not their own, and of living comfortably there.

10. Death: the ways in which it is achieved, the ways in which it is discussed, the ways in which it permeates. Love: the ways in which it is achieved, the ways in which it is discussed, the ways in which it permeates, the ways in which it fails, the ways in which it obscures. Family. Country. Employment. Restaurants. Dog ownership.

11. Stories focalized through children and adolescents result in a manner of revelation only possible when the world is being viewed through the eyes of one whose experience is little, but whose capacity for seeing, for filtering through a clearer, less contaminated lens, is great.

12. I am reading Benedetti through a bird’s eye view map of Buenos Aires. A map burned into my brain from years of getting lost in these streets. Each corner café in which I read a story from The Rest is Jungle informs my reading of this collection. I am reading Benedetti through the death of a beloved poet. And I feel as if only Benedetti’s structures, his stories that beg to be filled with everything he won’t say, can hold my grief, my ever-changing understanding of the history of this continent.

13. The Rest is Jungle is interspersed with moments of proximity, as when we are the only ones who share in Ana’s vision of an angel, while the rest of the characters don’t see it. We are granted sight and insight into her development whereas those who exist diegetically with Ana are excluded. Or like the dog who witnesses infidelity. It is only us and them. For once, we partake in that which is otherwise obscured. A small invitation. An offering.