Tim Keppel , http://tikentc.blogspot.com/
Alerta de terremoto , http://alertadeterremototike.blogspot.com/
Tim Keppel. Textos en inglés. http://tikentcingles.blogspot.com/
Between Cynicism and Benevolence
Julio César Londoño*
Gaceta, El País, Cali, Colombia. Jan. 7, 2007 . Texto en español, ver : Alerta de terremoto
Earthquake Watch, the collection of very Colombian stories by the North American Tim Keppel, continues to sell like bread in the bookstores and receive glowing commentaries from the critics. A resident of Colombia for more than ten years and professor of literature at the Universidad del Valle, Keppel observes, thanks to his condition of outsider, things that we don’t notice. For example, that the yellow light of a stoplight means “Accelerate!” or that a week is “eight days,” while two weeks only equal fifteen.
Even though he is hypnotized by our reality—the kidnappings, the narcotrafficking, the war, the common crime—“the violence is the backdrop of his stories, not a protagonist, as usually occurs in our literature,” according to the acute observation of Ricardo Moncada Esquivel. And this is true. In Keppel’s stories, which the Colombian cultural magazines compete for, violence is only the background because the central focus is on men and woman who suffer the universal anxieties of love, sex, money, friendship, work, and illness.
Earthquake Watch can be defined as a book of travels written with the liberties of realistic fiction, narrated in scenes, as in film scripts, and with the colloquial intimacy conferred by interior monologue and the use of leaps in time that avoid the monotony of lineal narration and imitate the disordered nature of oral narrations. The dominant tone is that of modernity—ironic—but between the lines there is always a vein of genuine humanity.
Beneath this crusty and cynical surface, there always runs a chaste current of decency that reminds us of those fierce tango afficionados who always fail when they want to hide their tenderness beneath their coarse language with which they insult the “unfaithful lover.” Or the young of all generations who camouflage their tenderness with blasphemies. Or Capote, that saint who insisted on making us believe that he was a devil. Or Wilde, that moralist who insisted on seeming superficial.
The book is full of precise observations that help us to see and to feel: “Marleny comes out holding one hand to the small of her back like a pregnant woman in a movie.” “The first time I told her I loved her she had an attack of tachycardia. Her heart was thumping like a little bird’s.”
Keppel has the courtesy to say everything with a few phrases. For example, to summarize the comfort of a vacation trip, he simply notes that it transpired in “Cartagena, with white sand and starched sheets.” To speak of the nerves of a very prickly man, he writes: “When Gisela got romantic, he told her that he considered himself unfit to be a father, that this world’s too fucked-up to bring a kid into, etc., etc.”
The writer always relies on the experience of the reader and saves us those ramblings that long-winded authors mercilessly impose on us. “I’m forty-six and she’s twenty-three. I know, I know,” he grumbles, anticipating our raised eyebrows, and going on to something else, to sum up, for example, the history of a character in one paragraph: “Gisela has been through a lot in her life. She was raised in a family of eleven in a farmhouse of mud and straw. She’s known lice and scabies and that white powder you put around your nostrils to keep the stomach worms from crawling out. When her father was killed by the paramilitaries, her mom went crazy—or crazi-er. One brother joined the guerilla, another went to jail. One sister became a holy roller, another roamed the streets of the Tolerance Zone in a short skirt and high heels. Somehow Gisela survived, like a lotus in cow dung.”
The portrait of the Cauca roadways is perfect both literarily and socially: “Entering the Patía Valley, the landscape is rocky and barren. It hasn’t seen rain in seven years. There’s not a single sign of life—until the phantoms begin to emerge. Motionless under the blistering sun, women, shriveled and shawled, crouch under make-shift lean-to’s, extending thin, frail hands. Sometimes they’re accompanied by hollow-eyed children, but never by men. Where are the men? Gone? Dead? Pointlessly planting seeds that will never grow? The skeletal fingers beckon.”
Keppel’s stories maintain their tension through their language, the intensity of the incidents, their dramas, and through a recourse that he manages with a masterful hand: the interweaving of short and long tales, like this one that closes the story “Farewell to the Barons and Lords”: “Then there’s the one about the capo who wanted a river named for him. He proposed the idea in various high places. Attempts were made, careers were dashed, but the name of the capo never appeared on any maps. One day, though, his body turned up floating down the river. Ever since then they call it by his name.”
One has learned to accept that the North Americans stick ther noses in everything, that they plant their flag even on the moon, that they win the Nobel prizes, that they invent jazz and impose on all the world their movies, their jeans, and their hamburgers; but that now it turns out they’re writing the best Colombian short stories is a little too much. We’ll have to accept it, I suppose, and propose, to elicit envy, this trio of story writers for the line of attack of the national team of the genre: Tomás González, Tim Keppel, and Roberto Rubiano.
* La fotografía (a la izquierda) del autor de este texto: MIC de NTC … . La de Tim Keppel (a la derecha) se tomó del periódico El País de Cali del 8 de Enero de 2007 http://www.elpais.com.co/historico/ene082007/VIVIR/keppel.html . La ilustración es una de las que aparecieron en la Revista NUMERO # 32 (marzo 2002, pág. 76-80. http://www.revistanumero.com/indice32.htm ) en donde de publicó el cuento "Alerta de terremoto" y hace referencia un parrafo de éste que dice: "... Una mujer. ... Se rie del gringo ..., que se asusta con la cabeza de la gallina que lo enfoca desde el plato de sopa. ... "