Argentina-born writer Guadalupe Muro’s naturalist approach to prose comes to light in Air Carnation. Playing with boundaries of non-fiction and fiction, Muro presents short pieces that weave family, friendship, love, and conflict. Muro’s ability to move between comedy and trauma, belonging and displacement, and the divine and the ordinary results in a series that explores the imperfections and convergences of such dichotomies. Air Carnation is a story of the actuality of her own life as a daughter, lover, friend, and artist. In a climate of overwhelming obsession with identity politics, Muro transcends what it means to occupy categories of difference. Her honesty regarding her upbringing is not self-serving, moving past tokenization or fetishization—this is a woman who seeks her own truth. She is a child of hippies, who were children of the 1960s; she does not romanticize or penalize, and her refusal to come to such simple conclusions is exactly what allows Air Carnation to be so inciting.
Air Carnation is divided into three sections—"Guadalupe," "Intermezzo: Songs for Runaway Girls," and "Rita," each with a multitude of subsections. "Intermezzo: Songs for Runaway Girls" is a glimpse into the song-style poetry to which Muro is known for. The poem, "The Wassili Chair (after Aretha Franklin)” encapsulates Muro’s tone. Writing to an unknown lover, the poem is a plea for attention. The desperation and servitude in the poem center the fragility of Muro’s writing. Muro is aware of this, expressing, “we two are lonely, me and the girl in your drawing that hangs on my wall.” The glimpse into the wounds of a broken-hearted lover communicates a tender expressive style that rests in the familiar realm of the tenuous. A video of a performance of these pieces can be found in the link at the bottom of this review, and is worth watching.
Muro’s background in poetry allows Air Carnation to undermine the conventional structure of the novel. As her first foray into the novel, Air Carnation reads as more of a series of stories rather than a linear narrative. Reminiscent of Junot Diaz, her novel is one of memory, jumping between ages and scenes. As she writes, it seems that she is constantly looking back to provide us with every detail. The naturalist approach interweaves her personal story with recollections of others, jumping between stories she has experienced and stories she has heard offhand at parties. Throughout the work, she retells these stories from others, including one about a man who sang every Beatles song to avoid falling asleep from hypothermia. Muro uses this anecdote to connect to her own story, a tactic frequently found in the novel. From a less talented storyteller, this format could seem clumsy or elementary; however, Muro proves herself a gifted guide of emotionality.
Muro has received various accolades for her work, including the Raul Urtusan-Frances Harley Scholarship for Young Emerging Artists from Argentina, but freely discusses her own difficulties within the writing process. Muro discusses her inability to write after receiving acclaim for her poetry and examines how a painful break up silenced her outlet. The attention placed on the production of her work creates a meta discourse wherein the reader’s acute awareness of the composition of the novel points toward an epistemology of connection. Instead of existing as a consumable object, her words are active agents in relation to the reader. The engagement between Muro, the words, and the reader is not static—Muro’s complex project of collapsing the separation between the reader and her words is a rare feat.
Which is all to the good. Muro, working within this style, creates a commendable focus on her own secret weaknesses and desires. Her willingness to revel in her vulnerabilities is the true strength of Air Carnation. “I have never told anyone this, but art galleries make me horny,” Muro writes. This playful line welcomes the reader into a conversation. She asks us to consider questions: Where does sensuality lie? How do we configure intimacy between our lovers, our parents, and strangers? What is the true end to intimacy? Muro does not provide any answer to these questions. And perhaps other readers are not motivated to pose these questions to themselves while reading her work. Interpretation is subjective, and the novel explores many aspects of life. Muro’s work is one of staggering possibilities, with Air Carnation at the forefront of a style of art where the passionate is activated. By revealing her own bad habits and infatuations, Muro breaches the division between the individual and the collective. A shocking, hilarious, and heart-wrenching work, Air Carnation constructs a canon of affection.
Giordani is in their last year at U.C. Berkeley, where they are studying film and media. They are interested in collage art, botanical gardens, and transcending their physical body in order to become a cyborg.