Emilio, los chistes y la muerte – A Review

Emilio, los chistes y la muerte
Fabio Morabito , 173 pg

I read this because of a review—a good one—but a review that focused on the style of the writing whose clarity and precision showed a master stylist at work. Emilio is certainly sparse and there are few pharagraphs of more the five sentences. Most of the book is given over to short moments of dialogue, a dialogue of inquisitiviness that makes the book concise and interesting.

The book follows Emilio a 12 year-old boy who has moved to a new neighboorhod in Mexico City and as he doesn’t know anyone, he begins to spend time in a cemetary looking for his name on the grave stones while carrying a joke detector (a metal tuble that plays recorded jokes). He meets a woman who has lost her son and comes weekly to place flowers on his grave. Her son was about the same age as Emilio so they strike up a friendship after Emilio guards her emgerency trip to the bushes to urinate. From the story continues as a strange menalnge of youthful infatuation as Emilio falls in love with the woman, the loneliness of devorced women as Emilio’ mother and the woman began a tentative friendship initiatied by a message, and a sexual discovery. Yet in the same maner that the language is brief, the exploration of these themes is brief. It is as if the novel is the unfolding of a child’s understanding, which leaves the same questions that the child has, but unlike the child has a few ideas of what is happening. Unfortunately, that approach, too, can lead to a fractured story that doesn’t quite seem to finish.

The growth of the child is evident when he and the woman slowly draw closer and he asks to kiss her and latter touch her breasts to ‘see if they are bigger than his mother’s’, which he saw during the message. The boy’s curiosity is understandable, but what makes the woman let him touch her? Is Emilio the surrogate for her late son, and if so what was their relationship? It is never clear what drives her friendship—it is one of the many intriguing mysteries of the novel—but it is fairly clear that Emilio has begun to leave boyhood. Yet as the story ends it takes a different turn as Emilio descends into a cave under the cemetery with the androgynous altar boy he has seen at all the interments.  The altar boy who has been sexually abused in some manner by the local priest asks if Emilio wants to kiss him. The altar boy who knows what the joke detector really is and likes to smoke, is older than his years. But Emilio, too, is searching and he wants to kiss the boy to see if he is gay. They kiss, but it is inconclusive and when the altar boy falls in the river the novel closes as Emilio is running from the dark cavern to the light of the cemetery.

The novel leaves many questions unanswered, but many of those are intriguing, such as what motivates the woman. But the ending seems a little week. Sure, one could say that as he leaves the cavern he is moving into a new phase of life. And what can one say at the end of a coming of age story: he triumphed in the end? However, its concision is a puzzle that leads to a strange novel, yet one that seems to end abruptly. You can’t help but wanting to know more about Emilio’s adventures. He is such an intriguing boy.

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