Daniel Sada: Casi nunca (Almost Never)
The great Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, who spent a lot of time in Mexico, said of Daniel Sada Of my generation I most admire Daniel Sada, whose writing project seems to me the most daring and also Daniel Sada is undoubtedly writing some of the most ambitious works in the Spanish language. Only two of his novels have been translated into English and this is one of them.
Sex, as an apt pretext for breaking the monotony; motor-sex; anxiety-sex; the habit of sex, as any glut that can well become a burden; colossal, headlong, frenzied, ambiguous sex, as a game that baffles then enlightens then baffles again; pretense-sex, see-through-sex.
The first paragraph tells us clearly what this book is going to be about: sex. Demetrio Sordo is an agronomist and is now working in Oaxaca. The year is 1945 and World War II has just come to an end. He lives in Doña Rolanda’s boarding house, with a few other working men. Her idea of a good dinner is a plate full of beans, with a few rolls. But Demetrio is not too bothered about food. It is sex he wants, so he decides to find and explore Oaxaca’s red light district. The first prostitutes look a bit rough but he then asks a (male) passer-by and is directed to the two best brothels in town. He chooses one and is a bit annoyed that he has to pay an entrance fee. Nevertheless, he is very satisfied with the prostitute, Mireya, so much so that he goes back to her every night. Indeed, Sada gives us quite a few details of her skills.
However, the brothel madam decides if he wants to see her every day, there will be an extra charge, as no prostitute can be reserved for just one client. Indeed, it will double every day of the week. Demetrio protests but succumbs. He is helped by the fact that his boss gives him both a Christmas bonus and a pay increase.
At Christmas he has to go away, as his widowed mother is going to a family wedding and wants him to take her there, which will mean a long train journey to her house and then another one to the wedding, but, as a dutiful son, he reluctantly agrees to go. The couple stay with an elderly relative and, as there is only one bed, they have to share the bed, with Demetrio finding it difficult to control himself, despite the age of his aunt. At the wedding, however, he meets Renata. She is the youngest of five girls and the only one still unmarried. He is soon wooing her and, almost as soon, having erotic fantasies about her. However, though she is certainly willing to be wooed, even hand holding is off-limits.
Back home, he tries to write her a letter but finds it difficult to do so. Sada shows us his efforts and they are not very impressive. For a few days, he manages to refrain from going to Mireya but, eventually, cannot resist. Mireya, however, now sees him as her way out and wants him to marry her. She tells him she is pregnant with his child, though neither he nor we are sure whether she is pregnant and, if she is, who the father is.
Meanwhile, Renata’s father has died and she and her mother are left with some money. There is a hilarious scene about how they get the money out of the locked safe. The money is inadequate for them to live on, so they decide to open a stationery shop. The business is not a success, as there is no demand for one in their small town.
Demetrio is torn. He wants the sex that Mireya offers but the social standing that Renata offers. He makes one rash move after another, running away with Mireya but then hastening to Renata and, horror of horrors, daring to kiss and even lick her hand. Renata is horrified, so much so that she says that she never wants to see him again. But Renata, unlike her mother, is of the new generation. She wants sex but just in its right place – marriage. Demetrio, meanwhile, is back to living with his mother and then finds a job in a remote place where the whorehouse only has three rather large ladies who do not meet his needs. Finally, he finds a career option which works reasonably well and even considers opening his own brothel. And Renata? Well, as I said, she is of the new generation and likes sex in its proper place. Invasion-sex. Skilful-sex. Delirium-sex. Mania-sex. Formal sex. Sex that prostrates, crushes, cleanses, alters, conquers.
This is a very funny novel. Demetrio, like many men, is driven by his sexual needs but, as long as they are satisfied, he is reasonably content, but only reasonably content because, again like many men, what he really wants is a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom. If he has that – and, throughout this novel, it is what he is really aiming for – then he can get on with his life. However, on the way to getting it, he stumbles all too many times. Sada makes fun of him and his sex-fuelled errors. However, while I certainly enjoyed this book, on the basis of this novel alone, I cannot fully share Bolaño’s claims.
First published by Anagrama in 2008
First English translation by Graywolf Press in 2012