Tomás González’s path to publication was fairly standard: take a job as a bartender at El Goce Pagano in Bogotá, show the owner your book, allow him to proofread the novel and pay a portion of the publication costs. As González says, “The book was well-received by its public, mostly the El Goce Pagano customers.”
Not much of González’s life or writing follows a conventional path. We recently corresponded over email about his career and his latest novel translated into English by Andrea Rosenberg, The Storm (Nov. 20).
Taking place over 26 hours in and around a ramshackle coastal resort called Hotel Playamar, The Storm is a slim book with remarkable emotional depth. The narrative shifts between multiple characters, but the heart of the story is an ill-fated fishing trip by the owner and his adult sons.
The father is a stubborn man seemingly incapable of showing his sons love and affection even when he knows it’s deserved. The sons resent their father, but they need to haul in enough fish to keep the resort profitable. As the novel begins, the three men are going into the sea despite a brewing storm that scared off most other fishermen.
González’s writing glows with ominous beauty when describing the storm, the sea, and the nature that overwhelms the men: “…[T]here was the storm. The gray blotch was expanding, more mineral in appearance, lit by lightning in its core as if what was being produced was not sorcery—which is human evil, small-minded evil—but something larger and more impersonal.”
Nature, and humanity’s contradictory treatment of it, is a common theme in González’s work. “People think we are now independent of nature; they think we have dominated or vanquished it. They live in cities, and nature seems to be just a frame for the nice life they live or they believe they are living,” González says. “Many of my characters are city people going back to the country. They live on the frontier of those two worlds and are spectators and sometimes victims of their interactions.”
At first, the father and sons have extraordinary success. The fish pour and pour into the boat. But as the day goes on, the storm keeps brewing on the horizon, and resentment builds and builds. The men stifle their thoughts and communicate in angry outbursts that hide the depths of their feelings.
At the same time, the story journeys back to the shore and into the head of Nora, the boys’ disturbed mother. Other chapters bounce from guest to guest, giving a kaleidoscopic view of the resort and the range of people staying there. Hearing the different characters talk about themselves, and each other, fills in all the details that the characters can’t bring themselves to communicate.
At some moments, González’s style is fairly realistic, but then it slips into something more dreamlike. “The air conditioner purified the tense room. The mother slipped into the fathomless sleep of the mad while outside the bungalow the grackles piercingly expressed their thoughts in the almond trees and coconut palms.”
“I like to feel free when I am writing,” González says. “I am open to any possibility. If somebody in my books wants to turn into a beetle or a roach or go to heaven in body and soul, I would do it, no matter if Kafka and García Márquez already did it. I am not a magical-realistic writer. Or maybe I am, or would like to be, but the magic I want is not overly dramatic but simple, quiet magic.”
Richard Z. Santos is a writer and teacher. His writing is widely published, and he recently completed his second novel.