Veronica Gonzalez. Boston: MIT. 2007.
This is a strange story of child abuse, parenthood, and forgiveness, told in three parts. Part one is Mara’s story. Part two Mona’s childhood up to the death of her father, the baker. Part three shows Mona’s grief at her father’s death, and her reunion with her long-absent twin and the unraveling of the lies that controlled and ruined the lives of all these characters: Mara’s lies and half truths to Manuel about his father and sister, the Baker’s lies to Mona about her father, mother and twin. Mona’s fantasies border on truth, but make up one more lie that keeps her in a state of constant unease and torment.
Part one, Mara and the Baker, starts in 1967, when Mara is not yet fifteen. Her mother pimps the daughter around, taking the child for nights on the town with the mother’s current boyfriend, eventually offering the daughter to an older man and cajoling the child to be cooperative. The boyfriend double dates Mara with a graduate student friend who teaches the child about movies and jazz, but doesn’t touch her. When he disappears, the older man laughs at Mara’s broken heart. Then he gets drunk and rapes the child. Mara’s sordid life has put her through terrible experiences with men, but she was probably a virgin the night her mother’s boyfriend rapes Mara.
In Mara’s free time, she’s been sneaking into movies as a respite from school and her hopeless life. She’s wandered into a neighborhood bakery where she catches the eye and sympathy of the young baker. When Mara reveals how she has been used by her mother and what the drunken rapist has done to her, the desperate baker offers to take Mara away from Mexico City. Still in shock over the rape, she agrees, and the baker abandons his shop and drives Mara north to Los Angeles.
Mara is pregnant and uncommunicative, shutting out the baker from any meaningful interaction. Her cruelty to the baker grows as his own love for her grows. When she gives birth to twins, a girl and a boy, the baker lavishes affection on them as if they were his own children. The cold-hearted Mara rewards the baker by throwing herself at her hairdresser when the twins are not yet a year old.
In her ultimate act of hateful cruelty, Mara abandons the baker and Mona, to move to London where the hairdresser has a new job. The choice of the son comes as the result of a lie. The hairdresser cajoles Mara to leave the loveless home with the baker and bring her child. Mara doesn’t correct his assumption that she’d had a single infant, so when she decides to leave the baker, she covers her lie by choosing to take one child.
Part 2 takes place in Los Angeles in 1997. Mona tells her story in her own voice, such as it is. A difficult child, Mona is tormented by her imagination and her father’s distance and weakness. She is an out of control adolescent, smoking, drinking, and playing with casual sex. Mona acts out of a submerged rage and guilt that comes of her father’s lie that Mara and the twin brother died during childbirth.
The lie doesn’t take hold, however. Mona’s imagination creates a fantasy world that is not too far from the facts of Mara’s and Mona’s actual experience. Once, a friend taunts twelve-year old Mona that the friend’s mother has said how Mara abandoned the baker and the daughter, leaving in the middle of the night with the son and the hairdresser. Mona beats the friend bloody for the story, but its truth worms its way into Mona’s imagination, however hard Mona struggles to make up an alternative story.
Part 2 rambles into surreality after the baker’s death. On his deathbed, he reveals most of the truth. Her mother did not die giving birth to Mona. She has a twin brother who lived. It drives Mona to abandon her home, to wander into a strangely twisted story involving forest dwellers, almost-twins, sex, and madness. When Mona recovers from her grief and anger at what she’s learned, she hires a detective to track down her mother and twin.
Part 3 continues events of 1997. The gruesome cover of the broken body of a woman killed by a car is explained in this third section. This is how Mara dies, only a few days before the baker dies. Mara is walking a London street, probably in a reverie of Mexico City. She crosses the street and looks the wrong direction. Mara’s life has been a constant wrong step in the wrong direction, and in London death has come barreling at her from the wrong side of the street. Just like Mara’s life has been one wrong step after another. But Mona begins to put the pieces together.
Mona finds Manuel in New York City. Mara has whispered truth to the boy, usually while recovering from drunken fights with the hairdresser. Manuel knows of his sister, knows the baker is not their father. Because this is Mona’s story, Gonzalez leaves unspoken why Manuel has not been driven to find the sister whose existence he well knew. Mara has lied, telling Manuel the graduate student is the father, leaving the ugly rape and pimped upbringing unspoken. When Mona travels to NYC to meet her brother, he tells her what truths he knows, driving up Mona’s anger at all she suspected, fantaciszed, but could not know. She finds the revelations calming. The brother and sister walk the streets hand in hand, finding communion and resolution to many of Mona’s torments in their twinness. Mona begins to make sense of the lies and from there forgiveness for the liars. What else could she do?
Twin Time is an oddly perverse, difficult, first novel. Gonzalez draws richly from elements of Mexican culture, surrealism, and popular culture, giving the book a grounding in familiar material as the writer explores forgiveness for unforgivable, beastly acts. Readers can look forward to Veronica Gonzalez' next outing so see if fantasy is her métier or this strange account part of that variety that spices up a writer’s life.
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