08. 28. 2018. 17:04

The Life of Others

Review of Terézia Mora's Aliens in Love

Reading Terézia Mora’s new collection of short stories is like watching the neighbours on a winter's night through binoculars, to see what they are doing; these familiar strangers we have probably seen in the corner store or the cafe. – Terézia Mora's Aliens in Love is reviewed by Flóra Szilasi.

Reading Terézia Mora’s new collection of short stories is like watching the neighbours on a winter's night through binoculars, to see what they are doing; these familiar strangers we have probably seen in the corner store or the cafe. Some we may even be on greeting terms with, but still don’t know anything about their lives.

Mora's characters sit around us at a restaurant, order a drink before us at the bar, walk past us on the pedestrian crossing. They are the unknown but still ordinary strangers that makes us wonder for a minute about what the life of others might be like. Mora’s narrative is the binoculars that allow us to see how somebody else’s mind works, understand what they are going through, even if just for a second. What we see can only be the truth. The soft glow coming from the windows can only be the light of a cozy home. We can see the mostly ordinary life of ordinary people and their tragedies are still terrifying - or rather this is exactly what makes them terrifying. We are there as observers, as if it was our task to voice the characters’ thoughts, to give the inner monologues a voice on the outside.

Each short story has one character in focus, it is only the title story, Aliens in Love where get to see more characters’ thoughts. Tim and his girlfriend Sandy are inseparable since the first time they met, and both of them depend a lot on the good will of Ewa, Tim’s boss. These three are the narrators, not at the same time, and yet together, as if we could take a look at their collective consciousness, where the members say again and again what they mean to each other until they get to the point where they realize that nobody, not even somebody who takes care of us, can protect us from our own insecurities.

Mora’s themes are varied; we can see a breakup, a car accident, disappearance and death. Still, it is not the events that are most astounding, but the hopelessness that is present in every situation. We can see less tragic lives in Aliens in Love compared to Mora’s earlier works, The Only Man on the Continent and The Beast, but the rhythm and the tone of the texts are still horribly and chillingly familiar. The origins and the future of Mora’s characters is only important for them to be recognizable. Questions like where they came from and where they are going are not significant - they are only in the present, except for when a certain character is looking at their past to explain their present.

Terézia Mora’s characters are trying to overcome problems, they are trying to avoid the apparently inevitable evil, to survive and live through depressing days, the monotony of which is only broken here and there by a few good moments. They think it is not as dark as it seems. Waiting for the most of them does not equal suffering, it is just part of nature. They do rebel sometimes, but most of the time they just go with the flow. The stories of Aliens in Love are held together by a pain that is present in the entire book: solitude, loneliness together. Regardless of gender, age, social status or personality, all the characters are aching for understanding, intimacy and help. Even Erasmus Haas in The Cheetah, for Example who closes himself off from the outside world willingly. “You can’t catch me, I’m going to spend this time in my true home: drinking and watching TV,” he says and keeps to the solitude he undertook when he suffers and accident in his home all alone. His thought in his half-unconscious state still suggest that there is something missing. Or Marathon Man,who appears in the collection’s first story The Fish Swims, the Bird Flies, who, having always been a loner seemingly satisfied with his modest life, after being robbed cannot face the fact that he needs help, not even after putting up a fight and chasing the robber through half the city.

In some stories solitude itself becomes the main character. The perfect example is Perpetuum Mobile, the story of Tom, the divorced father: he can only meet his son, the only person he has a real connection with, every two weeks. It is clear that he wants more and that it was not always like this, that he had some happy years with his ex-wife, whom he still hates and only mentions as “the mother of the child”. We can see that he tries to change the situation, that he tries to correct past mistakes; still, he ends up alone, counting the days until he can see his child again.

It is not only solitude however, that connects the characters and their stories, but the constant search for identity and the need for renewal as well. Because of how the stories treat time, the reader only joins the stories when a glimmer of hope appears in the character’s life. We might assume that the big change is going to happen, that we can witness the development of the character, but everything stays the same and goes on in the same manner it did before.

The collection is not sad however, but more likely shocking. Mora paints an image of the character’s and/or narrator’s reality with her usual accuracy. Be it a miserable artist, the receptionist of a hotel or a doctoral student: through their eyes we can see their reality, with all the beauties and nuisances of being human, with all its complexes and injuries. Mora holds a mirror up to the modern person. She says it clearly: this is us. She notes old eternal truths about the human soul, the similarities and differences of our nature and problems. It is a description of an era, sometimes idyllic, sometimes brutal. Idyllic in the sense that everybody seeks the same good, peace and relief, and brutal in that everybody wants it only for themselves. This is where it comes full circle. The neighbours we are looking at with the binoculars only interest partially, while we are thinking about our own misfortune and loneliness. Honestly, we are only looking for their idylls and peacefulness, we are not interested in who they are.

 

(Terézia Mora: Szerelmes ufók, Magvető, 2018)

 

Translated by Fruzsina Wilheim