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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel García Márquez
Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera
It should be obvious to say that Love in the Time of Cholera is a love story. I’m not sure that it is. The young Florentino is obsessed with the beautiful Fermina — mad with desire, having laid eyes on her only once, he writes her letters, thinks of nothing but her, and waits, waits, waits, while she marries another man, moves away, gets old, becomes a widow, and is finally won over. It should be a love story. It has all the right themes, the right narrative structure, the right iconography. But as a love story, it falls flat for me.

Because there’s nothing to love. We’re told that Florentino is love with Fermina; we’re shown the lengths and depths to which he will go to win her. But we never see why. For her part, Fermina is cold, hard, unwinnable. But also entirely unlovable, even unlikable. It makes it difficult to root for the protagonist, because I really don’t want him to win. His perpetual string of casual lovers seems vastly preferable to his object of desire, even on those rare occasions when she finally does acknowledge his existence. I just can’t read it as a love story. It’s more like a story of pathological obsession and eventual concession, but with no real emotional investment in the plight of any of the characters. So the novel becomes to me only a linguistic exercise — a string of well-turned phrases instead of a story, or maybe a story that serves as a frame on which to hang the well-turned phrases.

It’s not that I’m a cynic about love. I may be, but I don’t think so. I am a cynic about the tendency to hammer love into a particular shape. Spending time with my family over Christmas, there was much speculation about when my now-married sister would breed, much speculation about who would marry next. Why? Nobody seems to know. Because that’s the next thing that you do. The protagonist gets the girl, so we call it love. Because that’s the way that the story goes, even if she’s entirely unlikable. It’s lazy storytelling, and that much worse when we live the story. Once you’ve got the kids, you wait for the grandkids. Because that’s the next thing that you do.

Love in the Time of Cholera has some nicely-turned phrases, and in that sense it lives more richly than most of us. But the frame is rickety, and the happy ending not actually that happy. Like far too many other stories, that makes it difficult to admire.

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