Nicole’s well-deserved vacation coincided with my re-reading of 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I guess you could say it was perfect timing: as I work alone for the first time in, well, ever, I’m reading the story of a family that is united in their all-encompassing solitude. This family embodies the notion of “you don’t have to be alone to be lonely“: while they all live and breathe and engage in dysfunctional family behavior, each individual exists in his own cloud of isolation, separate from the rest of the world.
While reading this novel, it’s difficult at times to keep track of all the family members. There are several generations of family members, and apparently they all have impressive life spans (excepting those who die of unnatural causes- this makes me appreciate Game of Thrones a little more). Úrsula, the family matriarch, lives to be well over one hundred (by the time of her death, no one knows her age-herself included). By the end of her life, she is described as being approximately the same size as a doll, with a raisin-y texture. I imagine she resembled whatever Benjamin Button looked like in his early life.
So, here we have this gigantic family, each member possesses his own unique story and personality traits (the Jose Arcadios tend to be reckless and impulsive, basically whirling dervishes, while the Aurelianos are reserved and introspective, a bit more brooding), they are all united in their solitude. This self-imposed solitude breeds a certain degree of selfishness. For instance, once Colonel Aureliano returns from years of war, his mother Úrsula reflects on his tendency to withdraw from the world: ”
She realized that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had not lost his love for the family because he had been hardened by the war, as she had thought before, but that he had never loved anyone, not even his wife Remedios or the countless one-night women who had passed through his life, and much less his sons…She reached the conclusion that the son for whom she would have given her life was simply a man incapable of love. (248-9)
Seems pretty strong, coming from your own mother, huh? But, it brings up a good point- when you’re wrapped up in your own world, you tend to disconnect from other people, and in the case of the Colonel, your “IDGAF” level goes through the roof. Most of the characters are self-aware enough to realize that their solitude ultimately harmed others, but they wouldn’t change. (As a sidenote, my IDGAF levels were unaltered while Nicole was away. Woo!)
Besides following generations of the family, which I enjoy in a novel, 100 Years has some fascinating storytelling techniques. One technique is magic realism, a sneaky style of writing that describes something out of the ordinary in such a matter-of-fact manner that you can’t help but accept it. For instance, one of the characters is followed around by yellow butterflies everywhere, to the point where it annoys everyone except his lady-friend (the butterflies help her keep tabs on him). While you’re reading, you don’t think Alright, Gabe, nice try. Butterflies don’t follow people around, I buy none of this! Instead, you think, Huh, that sounds lovely, but also inconvenient.
With magic realism, the ordinary is given a little “extra.” One of my favorite parts of the novel is the brief moment when the first José Arcadio discovers ice: ”‘It’s the largest diamond in the world.’ ‘No,’ the gypsy countered. ‘It’s ice.’” (17). Sure, he was just looking at a huge chunk of ice, but seeing the world through that lens of wonder and amazement, where a chuck of ice transforms into a diamond, well- that keeps life interesting.
Along this idea of reality, the novel toys with the idea of our collective experiences and perceptions. Have you ever played the “Remember when” game with a friend, only to find that you both remember a certain incident very differently? There are several instances of this throughout the novel, and it kind of messes with you, because the information you’re given isn’t enough to determine the True reality. Additionally, there are a few instances (like the outbreak of insomnia in the city) when the characters become confused about “what is real.” When I spent too much time alone, physically or mentally, and with the insomnia booster, staying in touch with reality can be a headache (yet another reason why it’s great to have Nicole back in the office).
I may have felt like I was in my own 100 years of solitude while Nicole was gone, but in reality it was more like 10 days. Maybe it seems like it’s been 100 years since you started reading this post (although, I sincerely hope not), and I could probably go on and on about this novel for the next 100 years, until I turn all old and raisin-y. Instead, I’m going to go out and be amazed by everyday things, and enjoy the company of other people. Solitude is refreshing, but only for so long.