Review: The Proof by César Aira

Aira’s novella has three distinct parts to it, all of which display his masterful ability to play with time in his narrative. The story begins with a sixteen-year-old girl named Marcia walking down a street in Flores, observing other young people talking, hanging out and listening to music.  Marcia, a self-conscious, over-weight, slightly depressed, is shocked yet excited when two punk girls named Mao and Lenin yell out to her, “Wanna fuck.”  Aira’s chronicle of Marcia moving through the crowd of teenagers and her initial encounter with the punks takes up the first thirty pages of the book.  His detailed descriptions of young people gathered on the sidewalk, Marcia’s thoughts as she walks through these crowds and the impending twilight serve to stretch out the events in his downtempo narrative.  His lyrical prose and vivid elements of a night on the streets of Flores kept me earnestly turning the pages in this first part of The Proof:

She came up against floating signs: every step, every swing of her arms met endless responses and allusions…with its sprawling youthful world, arriving in Flores was like raising a mirror to her own history, only slightly further from its original location—not far, easily reachable on an evening walk.  It was only logical that time should become denser when she arrived.

Marcia decides that she is afraid of the foul-mouthed and overbearing punk girls, but she is also curious enough to find out more about these strange girls so she agrees to have a conversation with them at a nearby burger joint.  Aira slows down the tempo of the story in this second part of the book to the point where I was bored and almost gave up on the book.  The three girls attempt to have a ridiculous exchange about what it means to be a punk.  According to Marcia this means listening to The Cure, wearing dark clothes and sporting a wild, purple hairstyle.  The punks, however, reject any such labels.  Aira seems to be making fun of his characters and their ridiculous,  and at times cruel,  “fuck everyone” attitude.  This goes on for what seems like a very long, drawn out thirty five pages; he slows down time to the point of oblivion with a long, slow, nihilist discussion among his characters that goes around in circles:

…despite the strangeness of the two punks, she could make out a shallow depth to them: the vulgarity of two lost girls playing a role.  Once the play was over, there would be nothing left, no secret, they would be as boring as a chemistry class…And yet at the same time she could imagine the opposite, even though as yet she didn’t know why: maybe the world, once it has been transformed once, can no longer stop changing.

When the trio finally decides to leave the restaurant, the time in the narrative picks up speed to the point that the book feels like it goes by in an instant.  I am glad that I stuck with it until the end.  The punks decide that they want to prove their love for Marcia by a violent holdup of a grocery store which scene feels like something out of a big budget, action movie.  Explosions, shootings and decapitation are all packed into the last twenty-five pages of the novella.  By including so much action and description, to the point of shock and gore, Aira brings his narrative to a quick, unsettling and astonishing end:

That was when Mao appeared in a hole created by the broken glass, revolver in one hand and microphone in the other.  She looked calm, self-assured, an imposing figure, in no hurry.  Above all in no hurry, because she wasn’t wasting a single moment.  Things were happening in a packed continuum which they had perfect control of.  It was if there were two distinct times happening simultaneously: the one the two punks were in, doing one thing after another without any pause or waiting, and the other of the spectator-victims, where everything was pauses and waiting.

The final scene solidified for me the story as metaphor for the ridiculous things we sometimes do to prove our love for another person.  Mao claims that the depth of her love-at-first-sight for Marcia is worth creating such havoc and chaos.  Before robbing the cash registers, Mao shouts an interesting message to her victims in the grocery store: “Remember that everything that happens here, will be a proof of love!”  Not all of us rob and set fire to grocery stores to prove our love to another person, but some days the hell we put ourselves through in the name of this complex emotion makes us feel like we have gone to the same extremes as Mao.  As I was reading Aira’s final, astounding conclusion to The Proof I was reminded of a few lines of the poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” by William Carlos Williams:

I cannot say
that I have gone to hell
for your love
but often found myself there
in your pursuit.

This is my first contribution to Spanish Literature Month hosted by Stu and Richard.  Please visit their blogs to see the list of the great selection of books being reviewed.


Filed under Spanish Literature

15 responses to “Review: The Proof by César Aira

  1. Wonderful quotation at the end of your review, Melissa.


  2. I really enjoyed this. I know what you mean about the pace of the middle section but I loved the tension there. The Little Buddhist Monk is much more surreal!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would like to know how this book fits into Aira’s massive oeuvre. I know he divides people and I understand he has two distinct styles. I have a couple of his well-known titles which I haven’t read but thought I would try this one when it arrived with my subscription. I bailed after 30 pages and don’t think from your review that hanging in would have changed my feelings. I couldn’t or didn’t want to buy into the premise. Such a disappointment for my first taste of his work.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Aira has way more than two distinct styles. Or possibly he has one and only one.


  5. Amusing Argentinean punk backdrop aside, this is by far one of my least favorite Airas. I’m glad you enjoyed most of it, though, and I hope you’ll try the novella Ghosts or the short story “Cecil Taylor” if/when you try Aira again for two examples of him at the top of his game. Thanks for joining us for Spanish Lit Month, by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi. Thanks for your review here. Say, a question. Reviewing Terrorist, the 2006 novel by John Updike, James Wood criticizes the author for putting impossible thoughts in the head of his 18-year-old main character, impossible in the sense that an eighteen-year old could never have such thoughts and could never express such thoughts in the novelist’s sophisticated language.

    Do you think the same thing is happening here? Do you sense César has done this same thing for Marcia? And the two punks, for that matter?

    Thanks! Always enjoy your insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks, Melissa. I’ll keep this question in mind while I do another read of this outstanding novella. I have the sense César enjoys playing with inserting, even superimposing, his own voice, thoughts and language on his characters. And he does it with a light touch – making the tale all the more charming.


  8. Hi Melissa. Thanks again for your VERY perceptive review. Your reflections were most helpful. Just did post my own review you might dig. Link:

    Liked by 1 person

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