Time spirals around continually in Francisco Goldman’s novel Say Her Name. Aura dies on the first page and then she is alive and then she is gone and always time is defined by where we are in relation to the date of her passing: July 25, 2007. This narrative structure gives a sense of motion and movement and instability, all of which allow the reader to breathe a bit. I was asking myself repeatedly: is this scene before Aura’s death? Or after? At the end we are suddenly in the moment on the beach in Mazunte, that fateful moment when a wave hit Aura at just the wrong angle and took her life.
As I read the book, I wondered how a person can focus in on this kind of awful, random horror for so long and with the diligent intensity that writing a novel demands. Slowly I began to see why Goldman kept on writing this book and why he labored to pull it out of his deepest depths. I also understood what an intense experience reading the book is. It becomes a communion of reader and writer and character. We all participate in bringing Aura into the world of the living again and allowing her to think and write and breathe once more.
It is crucial to remember though that this book is still a novel, not a memoir. There are parts that are highly fictionalized and even fanciful. Perhaps unexpectedly, there’s also a good deal of humor in the book, both Aura’s humor and Frank’s. I’m glad Goldman decided to write a novel and not a more traditional memoir, because the imagined elements of the novel move it to another level, to a place where pain and horror are transcended by humor, joy and even happiness.
It’s been a bit challenging for me to write these blog posts. Writing through this mixture of the personal and the literary means dealing with a number of conflicting emotions and thinking about deeply difficult topics. But then when I turn to the novel and think about the intense challenge its writing must have entailed, I’m left with even more respect (and awe) for Goldman as a writer. And Frank as a person.
Don’t miss Francisco Goldman this Monday, September 19 at the Wortham Center at 7:30pm.