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Eva Baltasar: Boulder (Boulder)

This book follows on from Baltasar’s first novel Permagel (Permafrost), part of a loose triptych narrated by a different woman in each case. In this one, as in Permagel (Permafrost), the narrator is unnamed though, as we shall see, she is given a nickname by her lover.

We first meet her in Quellón in a fairly remote part of Chile. We know little about her, not even her nationality, though she seems to be Spanish-speaking. She has been working as a cook at a couple of summer camps for teenagers though, as she tells us, she is not a chef, I’m just a mess-hall cook, capable and self-taught.
She has had a series of similar jobs here and there but never lasted long at any of them. As one of her former bosses tells her the problem isn’t the food, it’s you.

She does not seem to do much, except to smoke and drink and, occasionally, have sex. She is a total loner. I came here looking for, true zero. I was tired of inventing résumés, of having to pretend life had a structure, as though there were a metal rod inside me keeping me upright and steady.

However, she has now got a job on a ship, a freighter that takes passengers. The rough weather and poor conditions do not bother her though they seem to bother some of the passengers.

It is in Chaitén that she meets Samsa. Samsa is a Scandinavian geologist and she makes her living from a multinational with blood on its hands. They get together and have sex. They start seeing each other regularly, each time our narrator’s ship docks in Chaitén. Samsa gives her the nickname Boulder because I’m like those large, solitary rocks in southern Patagonia, pieces of a world left over after creation, isolated and exposed to every element. No one knows where they came from. Nor do even they understand how they’re still standing and why they never break down.

They carry on meeting and having sex till, one day Samsa tells Boulder she is leaving as she has been offered a good job in Iceland. Boulder goes with her. Samsa works long hours but is very well paid. However, Boulder is not the housewife type. Samsa buys a house. Boulder hates it so Samsa rents it to someone else. Samsa likes socialising, Boulder doesn’t. Moreover, Boulder does not like children and the Icelanders seem to have a lot of them and indulge them.

Boulder gets a job, a badly paid cook job. The couple travel round the country and manage to stick together. Samsa changes jobs and goes to work for an oil company. Boulder changes jobs – several times. Eight years with Samsa and every millimetre of land has been charted. All of it. How can existence exhaust itself? Should she leave, disappear without trace? However, she opens a food truck, selling empanadas and does very well.

And then Samsa says she wants a baby. Boulder does not and comes up with a host of reasons why not, including their age (around forty). Having a kid is the same as enrolling in a lifetime plan of suffering.

But she knows that if she refuses she may well lose Samsa so she reluctantly consents. But it does not work out too well. I don’t know where she’s gone to; I touch her and she’s not there.

She has an outlet – a male friend called Ragnar who used to be her boss. They drink together. But it is not working well with Samsa. I tell her I’m not cut out to be a mother, much less a lapdog, the obedient company she wants from me and I don’t believe in this island and I don’t believe in happiness, or in relationships, or in children, or in God. And then she meets Anna.

As with the heroine of Permagel (Permafrost). Boulder wants sex. She seems to be the dominant one in sex, as she wears the strap-on. But she does not want a family, does not want to be the little woman. She is fiercely independent and does not mind being alone. She certainly does not want to be part of a group or, indeed, socialise. In fact, she is very much opposed to the social life. One or two friends to chat to and drink and smoke with and regular sex are all she needs. She clearly has no maternal feelings. No structure, no organisation are what she wants.

Does she love Samsa? The issue is never discussed. She seems to need to be with her, at least for the early years but if they do anything together except sex we do not learn about it. It should be sad but you have to admire the single-mindedness of Boulder and the fact that she is – almost – self-sufficient.

First published by Club Editor in 2018
First published in English by And Other Stories in 2021
Translated by Julia Sanches