In among Roberto Bolano’s collected essays, articles and other nonfiction bric-a-brac in the anthology “Between Parentheses” is an interview with the Chilean author in which he declares, “Of my generation I most admire Daniel Sada, whose writing project seems to me the most daring.”
Sada was an award-winning Mexican poet, journalist and novelist.
One year after his death in 2011, Graywolf Press gave English-speaking readers a taste of his exuberant prose by publishing his 2008 novel “Almost Never.” In that book, a macho Mexican philanderer is made to choose between settling down to amorous intimacy with a prim woman or continuing his lustful relations with a prostitute.
Graywolf’s second and newest Sada offering, “One Out of Two,” is again about a love triangle involving a man and two women. However, this time the thoughts and deeds are chaste, the man is a mere pawn, and the perspective is that of the two wily women.
Identical twins Gloria and Constitución work all day as seamstresses in a small, dusty town in northern Mexico. Now in their 40s, they have never attracted the opposite sex (“not even a horse had allowed his gaze to linger longingly on either of them”) and their aunt fears they will remain spinsters for the rest of their lives.
One day they receive an invitation to a cousin’s wedding. Gloria sits it out and loses herself in tailoring and dressmaking; Constitución attends and bags a suitor, a rancher called Oscar.
But rather than a stroke of good luck, he turns out to be “a thunderbolt sundering them apart.” So as to stay together and not sully their “single pureness,” the sisters remain true to their motto of “what is yours is mine” and share the man
. Both posing as Constitución, they take turns going on romantic walks with their duped man. Inevitably, though, problems arise, not least when Oscar proposes marriage and both sisters decide they are in love with him.
“One Out of Two” comes in at under 100 pages and, as such, feels more like a breezy, witty novella than a gutsy, ideas-rich novel. But thanks to Sada’s controlled artistry and Katherine Silver’s sparkling translation, it manages to enchant and amuse.
There is brash comedy courtesy of the twins’ meddlesome “legendary” aunt; laughter in the dark from her unsubtle account of their parents’ tragic demise, and the manic Shakespearean farce of mistaken identities and calculated subterfuge.
Buried within the mayhem is a serious point about looking alike being an affliction. Also, despite his light touch, Sada routinely challenges with peculiar, staccato sentences: “Darkness, interior ruminations, a lively flame: left lit: by both: possibly for very different reasons.”
Bolano also called Sada a radical writer, and this entertaining romp is all the more intriguing for the way it follows a familiar template while doing something refreshingly new.
Malcolm Forbes has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Economist and the Daily Beast. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.