January 21, 2015

Arcadian Americana

On Javier Sedano’s Tras las puertas del corazón (“Behind the Heart’s Door”)

Definitely, one of the books that has shocked me most in recent times. This novel is a box full of surprises!

The main plot of this 2009 novel tells the story of Jaime, a young, inexperienced journalist in charge of writing the memoirs of Alejandro, the bigwig of the newspaper Jaime is working for. Jaime does not know much about Alejandro: he is a dark individual, a wealthy, grouchy man who shut himself in his faraway manor long time ago. Those who are now picturing in their minds a creepy, stooped over man with a long white beard, leaning on a twisted stick—cannot be more wrong. First surprise: Alejandro is actually an attractive silver fox.

So—what is Alejandro’s story? Quite an enthralling one, indeed!

In the mid-1960s, Alejandro—from now on he will be called Alex—, a college boy from Spain, lands in New York to get a master’s degree. Alex was born under a lucky star as his roommate happens to be Ray, a hot, likeable nudist. Ray acts as his cicerone in the City at first. Little by little, he will become his best friend in America until he finally, after a short period of secrecy, brings up his bisexuality. What is Alex’s reaction then?, the reader asks. Well—Let us say love is in the air.

Claiming that the thing between Ray and Alex is a great love story falls short. Ray does not only become Alex’s lover, but also his closest friend, his confidant, his spiritual guide, his coworker, his travel companion over his life…And the reader is a (widemouthed) witness to every stage of this relationship. Both Ray and Alex represent the physical stereotype of the perfect man: slender, muscular alpha male—but brandishing an exotic feature: a sexy, silky long hair. This info would be just by the by if it did not come together with a groundbreaking life philosophy. (I am afraid this is not only in the 1960s, but also nowadays.) Ray and Alex live in communion with nature, a point that makes them into human beings with special sensitivity. This leads them therefore to deal with their private lives and jobs—they work as journalists: Alex as a reporter, Ray as a photographer—in a rather receptive, spiritual, artistic way. Thanks to Ray, Alex discovers a new face of his sexuality, an original way of living, and also a different family standard. Ray, along with his sisters Star and Moon, make up a trio of siblings truly sympathetic, open-minded, tolerant, and caring. When Ray confesses to the family that he is gay and loves Alex, they first fall silent after the stunning announcement, but it will not take too long before they all give him a hug and say it is okay. Remember, in the 1960s!

Do not think of Ray and Alex living in the woods, ignoring the mankind. Sedano frames their story in the latest events of that moment. There are references to the Vietnam War (Ray, as you may guess, avoids the fight), the 1967 Summer of Love, the New Communalism, the Stonewall riots…Ray and Alex are totally cut to fit in the hippie movement: free love, nudism, life in commune, human-animal bonding, attachment to natural energies—A series of issues that will delight not only those who long for the hippie times, but also those who could not live it. Nevertheless, there is a point Sedano does not seem to agree with: experimenting with drugs. He even condemns tobacco, so Ray and Alex scarcely smoke grass from time to time.

There in San Francisco, the two of them fall in love with a pair of women, get married and become fathers. But they never stop loving each other. And their wives know it and respect it, as they love each other too. No wonder these four bodies ooze happiness in full…Still, a couple of setbacks make these two men fly to Spain to cover the booming Transición Española[1] in the mid-1970s. This will mean the end of their American Dream. Up to this point, Tras las puertas del corazón has been a kind of Arcadia, a quasi-pastoral novel where the protagonists have discussed the highest spiritual issues, and lived the most rewarding experiences. The second part becomes dirtier. Spain is the land where this couple will face the crudest events of their lives (here we get to know why Alex, that kind-hearted man from the past, eventually turned into a kind of tormented hermit); thus, America symbolizes the Paradise they should have never ever fled from. Never mind...Every story has a beginning and an end. And the end of this novel brings more than one surprise to Jaime as well as the reader.

Javier Sedano is not a sophisticated, style-obsessed author. However, his narration, so direct, so genuine, so meaningful, is capturing us at every turn.  There is one particular sex scene between Ray and Alex when in Barcelona that I enthusiastically recommend to all the potential homoerotic fiction authors: this is not only a high-energy sex scene, this is also affectionate, romantic, visceral… heartfelt. The reader can easily sense the feelings between these two characters while—it cannot be expressed otherwise—making love. Yet, do not think of Tras las puertas del corazón as a mere homoerotic novel: I should call it a novel of education, but even this literary label seems to me quite simple to put into words what Javier Sedano pictures in his work.

Anyway, trying to explain this novel seems to me a complete waste of time: this is just an impossible task. In 1939, when Metro Goldwyn Mayer company released its comedy masterpiece Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka, the audience could read on the film posters: “Don’t pronounce it—See it!” Regarding this tagline, and as Tras las puertas del corazón is concerned: Don’t pay attention to my review—Just read the novel! It is experience that really counts.

[1] I have already mentioned this period in Spanish history in my previous entry Interview with Paloma Pedrero, footnote number [3].

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