Miguel Angel Oeste, Vengo de ese miedoTusquets Editores, “Andanzas”, 2022, 304 pages, ISBN 9788411071567
Tolstoy said that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The writer from Malaga, Miguel Ángel Oeste, confirms the saying of the Russian prose writer with his latest novel, in which he tells us about his sordid childhood in the south of Spain, surrounded by a violent and tyrannical father, and a mother who let all sorts of terrible things pass before her eyes, a woman victim of the man she married and who never helped to change the drama they were living at home. If it is undoubtedly true that writing consists in bringing to light what we have in us, Vengo de ese miedo, published by Tusquets, is a real cry. The first sentence sets the tone: “I want to kill my father”. This is not a metaphor; the author actually confesses that he dreamed of this real possibility, that for years he harbored this murderous thought and fantasized about how his father ended his life.
The narrator suffered in his flesh the paternal abuse during his childhood and adolescence, and decides to put his memories in order by talking to his family and friends. He doesn’t really seek to forgive or understand him, for the monstrosity can never be understood, but to put his experiences in order in order to move on, as he clarifies at one point: “I repeatedly type the word “before” which fills the computer screen. Before going forward, I must go back. Start at the beginning, or what I consider to be the beginning”. Oeste, a graduate in history and communication, is the director and screenwriter of several documentaries. He also wrote novels and several short stories. His professional career is vast and full of success, which allows us to observe the importance of the tenacity of those who succeed despite a childhood spent in an environment full of violence. In his novel, what he talks about is above all the price he had to pay to succeed.
Throughout the 300 pages that make up the book, the author exposes himself to show readers his greatest fears, his enormous traumas. The structure of the novel is divided into five blocks. Through the different episodes, Miguel Ángel Oeste carries out a painful investigation, confronting the memories of his family members and his acquaintances in order to establish a testimony as real and close as possible to the man who gave him life and made him bitter. Fear is the backbone of the whole work and is the main feeling of the author, who recognizes that he cannot visit his father. This passage is particularly eloquent in this regard: “I am no longer a child. However, the fear that invades me is still the same as that of the child that I was, the one who never had the courage to face his father, the child whose eyes are small oceans and who looks down at his father, paralyzed, as he trembles inside. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret this inability. It is precisely because of this inability to be with him that this novel begins, as a process of searching for the truth, but also of cauterization.
Readers will find the self-portrait of a broken family peeling off in different layers, like an onion, but also the painting of a broken child’s heart. As we have already mentioned, the plot of the novel revolves around the figure of the father, a man endowed with great charm for friendships, someone kind and cordial, who enjoys a great social success, but which makes his house a place of terror. As a second figure, we are presented with the mother, a young model led into decay by her grotesque husband, a woman who plays the game of her attacker, who makes no effort to change things, who is resigned and who suffers violence. in his own flesh. The end is particularly heartbreaking, since she ended up disfigured and died in 2009 in tragic circumstances: “On July 16, 2009, as I was about to take a plane to Prague, my mother drowned in her own vomit while he was drunk. I suspect that he killed her, and also that he had already killed her, little by little, by blows, eroding her reason as sandpaper erodes wood. A simple and effective comparison, just like the hands with which he beat us. »
Gender violence is present throughout the novel, and makes us reflect on the extent to which family ties can be a whip with which we accept to harm ourselves. Miguel Ángel Oeste tells us, for example, that silence reigned in his house. In reconstructing the testimonies, one of the problems he encounters is precisely the inability of the people around him to speak loudly and clearly about what happened in the past. A few months after his mother’s death, he called his brother to find out if he was ready to speak, but he encountered the barrier of silence. “I insisted, he told me it wasn’t worth it, it would only hurt me more. At one point in the conversation, we fell silent. This is an essential element of the novel: what is not said, what remains in the coffer of omission. Is it better to forget the destructive episodes, or rather to revisit them to understand them, and thus free oneself? As Alberto Fuguet reminded us, stories that are not told fester, become infected and contaminate. The same goes for traumatic episodes in many families: people prefer to lock up what once hurt, rather than exposing it to light so it can heal properly.
The setting of the novel places us in the Malaga of the 1970s, in this south where a new form of party reigns. In a country marked by the Franco dictatorship, this wave of parties and entertainment marked a before and after, it represented a very specific model of tourism. This is a characteristic of Miguel Ángel Oeste’s novel: it is not only a diary of his memories, but also a historical chronicle of Spain at the time. The structure follows a messy and chaotic rhythm, as if the author was in a hurry to tell the testimonies point-blank. A peculiarity and a positive point of the structure is that it is divided into two parts. On the one hand, the story of how the author approaches the writing of the work allows us to discover when the genesis of the book comes to mind, which parts he has the most difficulty explaining , how he suffers as he delves into his memories, and even the breaks that come his way in the process. By metatextually depicting the process of constructing the book from its beginning in 2010, without knowing “what I’m going to tell or how I’m going to tell it”, readers will be able to see its progress and setbacks, and in general the painful reconstruction of the past. . On the other hand, we will find the chronicle of the life of his parents, where we will discover the episodes of alcohol, drugs and violence, abuse, and even their way of entering into a relationship, always toxic and revolving around dependency and need.
The question: “Is fear enough to shut up?” », which the narrator mentions, taken from Delphine de Vigan, makes Miguel Ángel Oeste reflect on his own limits as a writer, but also on his ability to bring to light his demons and to remember the child and the adolescent who suffered all the barbarities he recounts in the book. Particularly striking is Miguel Ángel Oeste’s restorative relationship with his two daughters and the latent fear of reproducing violent patterns with them.
Another question runs through the novel: is it an example of cathartic writing or rather an exercise in self-harm like the one the author suffered from as a child? A lacerated hatred oozes from every page, and the protagonist not only does not soften it, but seems to feed it into every sentence, even though he is aware that showing such a feeling is corrosive: “I try to soften the bitterness. I know that if I want to achieve anything, I will have to reduce this animosity. I know I’m going to have to write without hard feelings. But how do you achieve this when there are so many sad memories, so much pain and so much hatred, how do you achieve this goal when you are absolutely certain that your father is a murderer?” The intensity of the aversion towards the father figure gradually becomes a deep fear, something that seems eternal and that afflicts those who accompany Miguel Ángel Oeste in his descent into hell.
Vengo de ese miedo is much more than a book, it is a cry. A place where the windows are opened wide to let in the fresh air, but also a refuge where the wounds of the past are healed. Miguel Ángel Oeste’s novel is an attempt to find happiness, despite the stones he has carried in his backpack since he was a child. Among the many lessons that readers can learn is the will to move forward and to understand that the family is not always a shelter, a safe place. In this novel, it’s easy to see that sometimes what we call a relationship is just an addiction, what we consider home is hell itself, and what we once considered love becomes, over time, an unbearable fear.