Air Carnation by Guadalupe Muro, BookThug, 2014 $23.00, bookthug.ca
Air Carnation began as a letter to a lover—an attempt to use his language to “translate” her world for him—but became Argentinian writer Guadalupe Muro’s first novel in English. This letter that became a book is a hybrid text that includes both the shimmer of words “in translation” and the easy melody of songs that seem to have always already been written.
Air Carnation’s narrative weaves in and out of fiction and the less fictitious, with an interlude for song. Her prose is poetic but simple, sincere but never cloying—“I have never told anyone this, but art galleries make me horny”–and her observing eye is open and generous. There is tenderness in her curiosity, in the way she watches family and friends and lovers and strangers navigate the world alongside her. Vignettes are layered upon one another, the narrative sometimes circling back upon itself to give another perspective, a slight tilt of the camera’s angle. Muro writes of moments in a life, a writing life, a travelling life, and then brings us into a novel and gives us Rita, a half-step back into the third person. For Muro, and for Rita, love is a house becoming a home but living also necessitates movement. And so, she moves. From her hometown of Bariloche to Buenos Aires, from Washington and New York to a cross-Canada voyage, Muro travels in order to clearly see the place she started from. “When Rita is traveling, she remembers who she is […] Rita remembers who she is by remembering where she came from.” The need for travel complicates loves that are rooted in a place, but Muro also knows that “dynamism is what keeps the world glued to itself.”
There could be sadness in this paradox, but the heir to a dynasty of air carnations—flowers that grow without needing soil—approaches it all with wide eyes and a kind of abandon, throwing herself into love and travel, giving over to the urge to be at home, at her writing desk, when it strikes. “Like travelling, like sex, writing is a way to escape or to return home, to cover distance or fill emptiness.” Air Carnation circles around three fundamental elements of a life, love, a home, and the writing self, which are at once equally imperative and also seemingly impossible to balance all at once. Muro falls in love and stops writing, she stays home and stops travelling, she keeps moving and leaves lovers behind. Her songs might be “Songs for Runaway Girls” but the running away also always feels like a running towards, even if what’s in sight is still hazy or unknown.
Madeleine Thien says that she likes to think of “Home” as a verb, something to be continually re-created. This is just the kind of journey Air Carnation takes us on, the joyous and uncertain and occasionally bittersweet process of creating and recreating a place that can fit it all—big enough to contain a world of dreams and plans and loves and letters, unsent but not lost.