Draining the Sea

3.39 avg rating
( 18 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9781594489730: Draining the Sea

A striking literary exploration of the effects of political violence as it everberates through the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Guatemalan civil conflict of the 198 0s, and present-day Los Angeles-from award-winning novelist Micheline Aharonian Marcom.

Draining the Sea is the most ambitious and provocative book to date from acclaimed author Micheline Aharonian Marcom. The story unfurls inside the mind of a man who spends his nights driving the streets of Los Angeles, racked by memories and visions of the Guatemalan civil war, and, in particular, of a beautiful young Mayan woman who died violently in it. He was in love with her, but, it seems, may have played a role in her death. He also is very aware of the United States' complicity in the horrors of that conflict, further twisting his anguish. And in his mind, her fate resonates back to his own childhood as the grandson of survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

Micheline Aharonian Marcom, herself descended from Armenian Genocide survivors, has always been haunted by the long-term effects of atrocity. In Three Apples Fell from Heaven, she told the tale of the forcible deportation and massacre of Armenians with unsparing directness. In The Daydreaming Boy, she imagined a man living in Beirut who is forced to face the emotional aftermath of his brutal boyhood as an orphan of the genocide. Now, in this darkly lyrical novel, Marcom offers a powerful testament about the far-reaching impact of political violence and lost love.

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About the Author:

Micheline Aharonian Marcom was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1968 to an American father and an Armenian-Lebanese mother. She grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in northern California, where she teaches creative writing at Mills College.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for

Los Angeles Times Book of the Year
San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
Winner of the PEN USA Literary Award

“Beautiful and disturbing . . . dazzling and disquieting.”

Los Angeles Times

“Beautiful, brutal, and unsettling until the end . . . Marcom’s seamless, ethereal prose is suffused with raw emotion; there is heartbreak on every page, but also hope.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Early on in this elegant, penetrating novel, middle-aged Vahé asks, ‘How did I become this sort of man?’ Marcom (author of the well-received Three Apples Fell from Heaven) supplies an answer with steely delicacy. . . . [Marcom’s] writing is mellifluous . . . poetically inflected . . . The shadow of impending violence troubles the calm, but it is the grim reality of what has already happened that is most harrowing—the evil that Vahé must confront each day, as much as he might try to make himself more comfortable in the world.”

Publishers Weekly

“Marcom’s much acclaimed debut novel, Three Apples Fell from Heaven, was praised for both its beautiful prose and the casual candor with which it depicted the horrors of the 1915–17 Armenian genocide. Her follow-up, dealing with the persistent emotional aftermath of the genocide, likewise deserves praise for its fluid prose and haunting imagery, which now simultaneously articulate painfully clear memory and blurred, often brutal fantasy. Evocative, unsettling, beautiful.”

Booklist (starred review)

 

Praise for

A New York Times Notable Book

“Fabulous and searing.”

—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“Luminous . . . An unnervingly effective blend of imagination, artistry and grisly historical fact . . . Marcom’s prose is nothing short of gorgeous.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“The fierce beauty of [Marcom’s] prose both confronts the reader with many breathtaking cruelties and carries us past them. . . . But the novel is much more than a catalog of horrors, however brilliantly described. It is also about love and tenderness, the pleasures of customer and ritual, the moments of unexpected generosity and courage and, above all, the necessity of remembering—oneself, one’s family, one’s language, one’s history.”

The New York Times Book Review

“A disturbing, powerful work . . . Marcom’s writing is intensely poetic. . . . The effect is surreal, imparting the sense of how it is to continue living when all normal things have gone awry.”

The Washington Post Book World

“From the start you feel as though you are in the presence of an authentic voice, in this case a voice that weeps and wails and growls and shouts and chants and moans and sings. . . . Marcom is so talented.”

Chicago Tribune

“Provocative . . . tender . . . utterly brutal.”

Los Angeles Times

ALSO BY
MICHELINE AHARONIAN MARCOM

The Daydreaming Boy

Three Apples Fell from Heaven

DRAINING
THE SEA

Micheline Aharonian Marcom

RIVERHEAD BOOKS

NEW YORK

2007033674

Oh, take pity on me, the unfortunate still alive, still sentient but ill-starred, whom the father, Kronos’ son, on the threshold of old age will blast with hard fate, after I have looked upon evils and seen my sons destroyed and my daughters dragged away captive and the chambers of marriage wrecked and the innocent children taken and dashed to the ground in the hatefulness of war, and the wives of my sons dragged off by the accursed hands of the Achaians. And myself last of all, my dogs in front of my doorway will rip me raw, after some man with stroke of the sharp bronze spear, or with spearcast, has torn the life out of my body; those dogs I raised in the halls to be at my table, to guard my gates, who will lap my blood in the savagery of their anger and then lie down in my courts.

Iliad

 

In the sound of these foxes, if they were foxes, there was nearly as much joy, and less grief. There was the frightening joy of hearing the world talk to itself, and the grief of incommunicability. In that grief I am now as then, with the small yet absolute comfort of knowing that communication of such a thing is not only beyond possibility but irrelevant to it; whereas in love, where we find ourselves so completely involved, so completely responsible and so apparently capable, and where all our soul so runs out to the loveliness, strength, and defenseless mortality, plain, common, salt and muscled toughness of human existence of a girl that the desire to die for her seems the puniest and stingiest expression of your regard which you can, like a proud tomcat with a slain fledgling, lay at her feet; in love the restraint in focus and the arrest and perpetuation of joy seems entirely possible and simple, and its failure inexcusable, even while we know it is beyond the power of all biology and even while, like the fading of flowerlike wonder out of a breast to which we are becoming habituated, that exquisite joy lies, fainting through change upon change, in the less and less prescient palm of the less and less godlike, more and more steadily stupefied, human, ordinary hand.

—JAMES AGEE, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

We are more alone in this city.

—Marta

 

BOOK ONE

THIS IS A FICTION: a man; a man collects corpses, proceeds on the streets of this city, the city an amass of street, of canine corpses he collects, loads them into his motorcar, and the bleeding snout, crushed full canines, the black and blow flies in the anus the snout the genitals; these black corpses, these half-breeds, and not worth a dollar, he thinks; he thinks that if he could kill them all he would do it. But they are dead already. This has become his work: he finds and then lifts the corpse and the meat putrefies and after the diptera’s children have done their work—the small black beetles, wasps, moths also—then the monstrous scent of death recants (the meat has been consumed) and a bone smell long remains, but not humors or loves; the bones less lonely, the dead loud and cacophonous, in the days succeeding their ancient animal forms.

He drives along the streets of this city, to the sea and up the tarmac hills, along the remote spoors of the Santa Monica Mountains, which are today the 405 Freeway, and here he is a driver and the world is seen and separated by glass, plastics, metal, and it is speed he seeks, and a girl also, he moves the mechanical steel bull along the blackened roads and gets down from the car in the parking garages, lots and he walks to the front door, the supermarket doors, restaurants, his offices; there are green signs on all of the highways and they indicate streets, miles to go, and the four main arteries of blood in this city, the moving autos and what is possible in his imagination, a carcass stinking through the steel trap of his trunk; these are the modern thresholds; here in this city, he does not walk the dirt paths or learn to keep the days.

The man is tired when he arrives home. He is thirsty and he drinks the water from the tap in the kitchen; the fescue grasses are shorn and green in his garden, and the palms line the avenue like great and tall birds. Here he has hot water, electricity when he chooses it, brown carpets overlay the concrete floors. He sits now on a wide and green armchair, and he watches the television shows in the evenings, and in his America time is made into an automobile and an interlude of shows after the business day, the things that he has purchased at the stores;—and the underground men, like dogs, are piling up, their corpses tossed onto his edge, into his mind, leave invisible markers on invisible roads; he piles up the invisible bones and the dead come to him like children invited to a party, a continuous return of the idols; he waits, he is entertained, and dying also; a sick man, and doesn’t know it or recognize them as they arrive, make a ruckus in his mind like the black and blow flies.

*   *   *

AH MARTA, the beast released, here is the truth of it: I am this monstrous we. I chance upon it as I had upon the obelisk in my capital: tall and opaque white stone, granite and marble sandstone, the immense needle holds traces of the old gods and a new history: a monument not to what is or was, but to what we idea’d, like a nation-state dream, or the clock surface in Room 24 of Roscomare Road Elementary School—its black numbers, its loud motor pressing the day forward as if the days were only a progress. We are in my classroom as a boy in Los Angeles, in the basement of the Polytechnic in your capital, on the freeways of Los Angeles, in the village plaza of Acul, high up the green-grey mountains of the Altos Cuchumatanes. We are in this theater of the mind, which could be a history book or America or a television show or a man—all of it passes through his heart again to make a record. I must live, it reads.

Here is the truth of it: I am an American man and my kidneys begin to fail me; my blood is unclean and I must needs piss every quarter hour. There is pain and I am irritable, a fat and ugly man, the body insists on itself despite my ideas education job.

And I would like to fuck you for other reasons than this lengthy inquiry: your tits, perhaps, slow thighs; a mark on your face; the scarred ropey ankle, and the red lines on your neck; the underlip look you give me as I drive by you on the Pan American Highway on the way to your capital; a little fat belly slips over your skirt, peeks beneath the cotton; all of your scars white lines and the imperfect marks to make the body yours; without hands. And if we are not in the same place or time, what does this have to do with fucking? with love? with my cock half-masted and then the money for the fucking the love the half-masted and lonely cock? with the obelisk? a needle? this we who speaks, monstrous and unkind?

Ah Marta, this is an essay

I remember the years of the clock in the classroom and each turn of the second hand around the clock face, time reduced split and spilled out by the seconds and each minute, this time of the clock, a lifetime’s containment, so that the days were endless, the hours were days, the soul under the relentless machine of the modern, in the guise of the civilized man: caged frightened howling in the fluorescent lighted room behind the teacher’s lesson for the day; behind the father and his shame-on-you-boy’s; behind the nation and its lessons for the shut-up children—of happiness, of freedom, of the discoveries, machines and roads; of the new Christian world and petrol and motorcars; of progress; of destiny; and inside America there is always a story about Europe, just as inside freedom there is always the story of slavery . . . And I have wondered if these were the hours when they held you in that place. You are in a garden and the sun shines and in the distance the church bells do not toll, they have not been rung in many years, the façade of the building has deteriorated, the white plaster peels off in sheaves, the priests have long since abandoned this paradise: you are alone in the garden. You know that it is a risk to be alone in this place, but you would like to sit by yourself for a moment and you would like to look at the trees and to look at the flowers in bloom and you would like the sky unhindered by steel by glass (which you’ve hardly known, darling), by metal plastic sheeting then; by a canopy of clouds. They find you like this and they pick you up like a man will carry his old mother; his mother is dying and you also are being carried in a casket of arms to your death: you will die soon, you will be killed as one kills a man or as the hen is slaughtered in ritual sacrifice. I am your killer and both you and I don’t know yet that our destiny has been love, just as our destiny has been terror: an ancient love awaits us at the threshold.

[Is this threshold inside or outside the body like a mouth? like the vagina? like a babe as he passes through the portal, between living? This threshold your beginning or edge or end of pain? of suffering? of my love for you as I sat in the classroom, there begun the years of my official training, I have been trained in the history and morality of my country, I have learned to drive the tarmac roads, to keep the time correctly. I follow the rules and routes of majority and mob, we hold my urges tightly.]

When they bring you to me you have not, unlike most of the men, shat your pants or pissed yourself; you also do not have a hard-on; I am aroused when I see you and when I see you I burn you with my cigarettes and I cut off your hands before I kill you, tomorrow, because I have been officially trained and educated in these things, because it is my job.

These are not the stories for the faint of heart; these are not the stories that will circulate willy-nilly in the paradise of nations: the days, or your smile, your skin sweet unpissed and unshitted, a doe in the day garden. In a paradise of metal automobilic dimensions, four lane roads and ten lane highways, all of it to the scale of the car not the man, and the modern religion for the modern man: speed and cars and sweet doughnuts and plastic things, and a girl who has not shat her pants; a girl who has not pissed herself, she is clean and happy and free—but not a girl I can make into something else: my dead grandmother; and a day without clocks, without time’s relentless hold on the modern, on my cock, my desires, my wishes for freedom from Freedom, and for you also: a girl in a red and green cotton shirt.

*   *   *

MARTA, today I found a lost photograph of a black. He is dead in the photograph and hanged from a tree; see that he has been burnt also. You can’t see his face clearly, the image is blurred, the edges erased; there is only a now, a look of water to the photo. Look carefully, closely. See his pants, see his cock not outlined in the linen. Can you see his hard-on? He is aroused by the crowd and so they needed to castrate him: he was a man without restraints, a whistler, didn’t bow his head or remove his hat, step down from the sidewalk and he disobeyed or some animal cock fully unrestrained, like a needle; and they needed to release his blood when they killed him in the sunlight, at noon, when to fuck is nicest and shadowless. His cock not outlined; see the piss marks; the darker stain on black pants in the black and white photograph. The piss implies the still present cock: the whites cut it off afterwards perhaps; the whites stand around the corpse, one smiles and his hand is blurred, as if he were waving to the photographer (who is the photographer?), and the dead man has pissed himself in the photograph; he’s soft cocked—and the g...

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