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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Eloy Urroz

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To purchase Friction

Title: Friction
Author: Eloy Urroz
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 418 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Friction - US
Fricción - US
Friction - UK
Friction - Canada
  • Spanish title: Fricción
  • Translated by Ezra E. Fitz

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable roller-coaster ride of alternating narratives that doesn't quite add up to enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       In Friction Urroz certainly tries to deliver fiction-plus -- though there's quite a lot of actual friction in it too, right down to the orgasmic kind (though even that is not quite what readers might have expected). This is a two-track novel, with chapters alternating between two different narrative threads. Part is written addressed directly to the reader (or rather the Reader) -- who eventually becomes part of the story as well. The novel also references Urroz's previously translated novel, The Obstacles, and includes cameos by Empedocles, Pancho Villa, and Sergio Pitol (which is actually less fun than it sounds), as well as José Donoso's fictional proto-Boom author, Marcelo Chiriboga; elsewhere Karl Popper gets in on some of the action. And it features a Mexican writer who teaches at a southern university (just as Urroz taught at James Madison, and now teaches at The Citadel).
       Friction is set in 2025, but apart from the unlikely appearance (together) of Empedocles, Pancho Villa, Sergio Pitol, and the like there is not that much that is futuristic or fantastical about it. It is, in part, a commentary on Mexican politics (which have changed only slightly by 2025) and history, but it also offers a good deal of the traditional campus novel (of the hapless-disastrous sort), all tied together with various metafictional devices and fun.
       "Love and Strife, Eusebio, what are they ?" is the rhetorical question posed by the author-protagonist, Eusebio Cardoso, in the book's opening line and the two parts of the novel are called 'Eris' (strife) and 'Eros' (love) -- though frictional eris certainly seems dominant. Author Eusebio tries to convey what happened to him, but doesn't go about it in the most straightforward manner: "Well, I'm off to a bad start", he finds as he tries yet again on page 37, opening "the file on Friction". He has some marital issues -- he's on his second wife, Irene, who resembles (rather disconcertingly) his daughter by his first wife, and aside from the identity issues this second wife suddenly has to face there's the matter of his own ill-advised adventures with another woman (which can barely be classed as infidelity, but certainly involve a lot of friction).
       It's this pseudo-fling that lands him in deep trouble, and leads to his promising academic career (he was on his way to the safety of tenure) at Millard Filmore University derailing. What dirt he eventually gets on some of those who ruin his career -- and we are talking really dirt dirt -- proves hard to prove, but leads him quite far afield (and in interesting company).
       The other narrative thread focuses on the artist Arturo's sessions with, Matilde, the wife of a close friend of his -- sessions that involve her posing for a picture (though there's not much posing or painting involved); her recording his stories about his family and his life, as well as his opinions on philosophy and politics as she is ostensibly interviewing him; and them having an affair. This allows Urroz to offer his two cents -- at considerable length -- on Mexican politics and society over the years. Empedocles (and Popper) are, at least, among the interesting guiding lights for Arturo. The affair -- and its consequences -- also add to the general friction .....
       These storylines don't unfold in the most straightforward manner either: Urroz always makes sure that the f(r)ictionality of the novel remains well in sight, from the point where author and Reader decide: "it would be much more convenient and much more in accordance with the plotline we've set out before us if we simply move to the third person" to the inclusion of a "dispensable chapter" and an afterword by one of the characters. There's even a point where the author warns that: "things are going to take a ninety (or even a one hundred and eighty) degree turn" in the narrative(s), and gives the Reader a page and a half of empty space to (re)consider whether he wants to continue -- welcoming those who do turn the page (the Reader, implicitly, as well as the actual reader) to go on with:

     Okay ! Wonderful ! Perfect ! Apparently you've decided to continue, and to go ahead with the adventure. Everything seems to indicate that if you're reading these lines -- if you're still following along, stultified by and engrossed in this indecent book -- then you've chosen to press on with me.
       There's a lot of creative energy in this novel, and the narratives and the 'adventures' that are related are quite entertaining, but it's also a rather messy bundle. Urroz's invention can feel forced -- all the more so here because the rather thin stories are stretched out over more than four hundred pages. This makes Friction a roller-coaster ride of a read, but one of where the shock-value is dissipated, so that it ultimately feels like a ride of rather gently undulating peaks and valleys, with even the sharp turns too smooth for comfort. With it's somewhat aimless narrator -- "the question was: where the hell was I going to go ?" he asks himself 237 pages into the book ... -- narratives that are a bit adrift may be appropriate; they can also be a bit hard to take at such great length.
       There's also the problem that one of Urroz's central plot devices is ... human excrement. It is not very pleasant; it also feels somewhat gratuitous -- though one can see why he might want to force his characters to wallow in shit (though what he does is actually considerably worse than that).
       Friction is rather enjoyable most of the way, but doesn't add up to quite enough at the end. Readers may find themselves like Matilde, who begs Arturo:
     "Just hurry up. I want to hear how it ends."
     "How it ends ?"
     "But that is the end, Maty. What were you expecting ?"
       A little more. Just a little more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 November 2010

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Friction: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Eloy Urroz was born in 1967 and teaches at The Citadel.

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© 2010 the complete review

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