Short Story Review – Liliana Colanzi – The Eye (trans. Auston Stiefer)

By then, her mother had begun to sniff the girl’s underwear behind her back, and she would insist on leaving her at the gate of the college and on coming by to look for her every day, despite the fact that it was a useless precaution. “My mother has a point,” the girl thought. “I wear the mark that separates me from the others like a flame. There wasn’t a way to erase the mark, of hiding it.”

O, parenthood!

What damage can be done to a young mind by an overbearing parent?  Liliana Colanzi’s The Eye (translated by Auston Stiefer) attempts to show what might occur.  And, indeed, what might occur?  Well, guilt, repression, explosions of rebellion, a vivid imagination, solitude.

The damage that can be done.  It’s immense.  It colours an entire life, and probably the next, and the next. These things follow generations.

Our protagonist, a young girl who is sensitive, inquisitive, intelligent, curious, has heard about ‘the Enemy’ her whole life.  It’s never quite clear what the Enemy might do to her, but whatever it is, it is bad and wrong.  And we know, of course – the Enemy is a sexually active boy, the Enemy is a sexually active her.  And there shall be punishment.

She perceives her mother as ‘the Eye’, an all-seeing being who penetrates any shield, any environment, to spew her disdain, hatred and bile upon whatever it is that the girl is doing.  It’s amazing.  She creates of her mother an overarching god, or a devil, perhaps, who is able to see all and judge all.  There are scenes devoted to the Eye crashing into an ordinary situation and destroying it in hellfire and judgement.  This poor girl, she is damaged:

She ran to the bathroom, put her foot on the toilet and lifted her skirt. She took a razor, and, without taking a single breath, she made a cut across her thigh, where some old scares were fading. Later, she slapped herself three, four, five times, in quick succession, until the bathroom mirror returned the image of her burning cheeks. Next, she placed her hair behind her ears, cleaned the blood from her thigh with a piece of toilet paper which she threw into the toilet and returned to bed, where she read The Amazing Secret of the Souls in Purgatory, by Maria Simma, until she fell asleep.

And she’s smart.  She wants to do well, both for herself, for the Eye, and for some higher purpose which isn’t particularly easy to articulate when you are young and the whole world is unknown.  She wants more – she wants the world.  And who doesn’t as a teenager?

Colanzi has, to my reading, created a true and real, sensitive and appealing, young woman who wants to understand better the world she is inhabiting.  I have never been a young woman but I have been a young man, and there are similarities.  Everything is immense while at the same time, the world you know and are comfortable operating in, is small.  It’s intoxicating.

The third-to-last paragraph is excellent; the entire story builds up to it, and the payoff is satisfying and clarifies and enhances the themes that have been introduced throughout.  It’s clear that a tension has been building, and this paragraph releases it – it’s excellent, and feels right in the way that truly good writing is able to achieve.  It feels, in some way, like a perfectly built wall – sturdy, strong, clean, clear, all of a piece, coherent, capable, strong.  But more, obviously, because there’s an aesthetic sensibility to it.

What I am saying, I suppose, is that the shadow of an overbearing parent is long, and Lilian Colanzi’s story ably shows how destructive this can be.  Our protagonist does not receive a poor ending, which is excellent – that would have been easy.  And lazy.  Instead, she has her ups and downs, and she clearly has some problems to work through.  But she is a person, clearly articulated, and well realised, who wishes to be better than she is, and fumbles towards her destiny with sticky, clumsy fingers.  She’ll get there, but there’s still so much work to do.  There are all the books in the world to read, all of the albums in the world to hear, all of the movies in the world to watch.

“You, young lady, what you have to do is learn to disobey,” she said, looking at her with impatience. “Or put another way, learn to think for yourself, because that’s not the same as memorizing.”

Oh.

“You confuse intelligence with memory,” repeated the professor.

Yes.

Time will fix this.

The Eye is a short story by Bolivian writer Liliana Colanzi, and was translated by Auston Stiefer.  You can read the story online at Latin American Literature Today.

Author Liliana Colanzi
Title The Eye
Translator Auston Stiefer
Nationality Bolivian
Publisher Latin American Literature Today

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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