The Strongest Passion. By Luis Zapata. Clary Loisel, Ph.D., Translator from Spanish. ISBN:0-915745-76-3. $23.95.
Using only dialogue as its narrative technique, Luis Zapata recounts the story of his protagonist Santiago, a middle-aged businessman hopelessly in love with Arturo, a 19-year-old teenager, who is the son of Sarita, his best friend. Through skillful and entertaining dialogues during their courtship, which continue once the conquest is achieved, the novel reflects the deep generational chasm between the characters. Santiago is the completely dedicated representative of that mythical first generation of gringos born in Mexico--but in a gay version--who cultivates values and pursues goals in life and who believes in the middle-class version of national progress through personal and individual commitment. Arturo, on the other hand, is the typical postmodern teenager: pragmatic, addicted to working out, hedonistic, vain to the point of being narcissistic, cynical to the point of being cruel, and materialistic to the point of accepting money as the only God.
The personalities of each character are in stark contrast. Arturo is gossipy, smooth-tongued, biting in his commentaries, and as Santiago says to him: “too intelligent and very mature for his age.” Santiago is jealous and obsessive, as insecure as an adolescent, and already deeply worried about the imminent arrival of old age and the loss of being physically attractive to others. Santiago is politically correct almost all the time. While Arturo says “balls,” Santiago says “testicles.” Arturo enjoys talking about sex, while for Santiago “it’s not good to talk about those things” although in the moment of passion his language becomes less conventional. In spite of the seductive physical attributes of Arturo, for Santiago sex is no longer everything, and it is because of this that he believes he sees in the young man the ideal candidate to receive his love. Arturo, for his part, convinced of the worth of his body as a means to obtain money and frustrated at the few material possessions that his mother allows him to have, decides to explore a possible relationship with Santiago to the fullest extent even though to do so may mean that he will have to alternate between the role of a “trophy husband” and that of a bored “house husband.”
For her part, Sarita is omnipresent as the obligatory reference point and apparent topic of conversation during many of the discussions between Santiago and Arturo. However, as the novel progresses, the reader will better understand the important role of Sarita as the catalyst of the relationship between Santiago and her son, Arturo. Moreover, Sarita serves as a person who can legitimize social and personal status for both characters. Because of its formal structure and theme, The Strongest Passion could be classified as a psychological novel because it permits the full exploration of the subjectivity of the characters through language. Whether what is said occurs during telephone conversations or in face to face meetings, the reader is a witness to the constant dialogue between Santiago and Arturo. Zapata demonstrates his mastery of this technique, which will serve as a multifaceted recourse to develop a complex portrait of the characters and reflect their entire objective and subjective world. Thus, through every day discourse, the characters are defined by what they say and the way they say it as well as by what they do not say. Taking full advantage of all possibilities of verbal eroticism, Zapata creates innovative sexual scenes in Mexican literature. In this way, the detailed description of the spontaneous or fictional game of hot line in the telephone conversations between the characters, or the incorporation of video as yet another variant on the erotic game, are situations that allow the powerful link that unites the couple to be expressed. These depictions are also well utilized narrative recourses that allow the author to explore fully his proposed themes. Thus, in The Strongest Passion, Zapata shows us that if indeed there are “women who love too much,” there are also “homosexuals who love too much.” As Santiago realizes the impossibility of a reciprocal love, the reader experiences the process of an existential adaptation and the deconstruction of Santiago’s discourse on love. When Santiago realizes how his life must be, he gladly accepts his fate: during his life he has played, plays and will continue to play the role of the fool. Nevertheless, far from being worried by it, he accepts such a role as a sign of identity that will give him the desired peace and the tranquility of knowing who he is in life. However, this realization will take a heavy toll on him and will slowly cost him his fortune. Santiago is the typical case of a generation and of a “cultural love model” that is out-of-date and exaggerated. At the end of his long amorous journey—through therapeutic attempts at daily conversation—Santiago learns that the buying and selling of passion, as a substitute for love, is nothing more than yet another variant on being foolhardy. Clary Loisel, Ph.D.
In chronological order, Dr. Loisel has compiled seven clear translations that introduce us to lesbian and gay theater in Mexico, but, more importantly perhaps, to some of the finest Mexican dramatists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The interviews with several playwrights cogently identify cultural reference points for the general reader as well as the scholarly community, not to mention stage actors and directors. Robert Stone, Associate Professor, Spanish, Naval Academy.
Clary Loisel, Ph.D. obtained his doctorate in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of Florida. He is currently a Professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at The University of Montana in Missoula.