I’m not afraid to say it, because since he has established himself as an original and language-conscious writer, innovative and astute, as well as provocative, the appearance of a new book by Marcelo Mellado is a pleasant and/or morbid pleasure for many readers. And also for criticism. We have read some reviews displayed in the street media, and at least there is enthusiasm; when not euphoria Someone out there suggests it has been refurbished (dangerous word). It seems that this time the detractors have remained silent. Something similar to what happened with Germán Marín or Roberto Bolaño. Snout of lineage, they were persecuted by a mob of noisy guaren biting them, gloomy praise or trampling for taking away these straws from me.
In “Puppet Theater”, a certainly compromising title intended to slightly sweeten the central theme of the book, which is the staging of a fairly amateurish theatrical show entitled “Puppet Theater” with puppets. (Homage to Ibsen, someone says in the book). A group of artists desirous of receiving money from the state bureaucracy (from the regional or municipal government), sets themselves the task of preparing a “project”. An action in which there is much discussion, delusional solutions are proposed, one drinks to the brim, the inevitable cultural operators are faced. A clear example of neoliberalism in the artistic field imposed, until today, by the military dictatorship; With a constitutional basis, which I deserve. A law of the jungle that creates chain fights. There are failed civic friendships and potential bribery.
San Antonio and Valparaíso have been recurring locations in Mellado’s work. Moles you know well. His references extend to places or villages such as Placilla or Curauma, examples of Chile’s chronic propensity for social exclusion. Or Villa Alemana, a town where decadence is brilliant. This provincial imprint pervades the characters in the book, who have a different language and personality. Survived the precariousness. If you have to be a cannibal, come on.
The show satisfies the concerns of the plethora of subjects who immerse themselves in it. As Mellado says, some are in a chaotic search for the “discontinuous plot of an art that plotted against itself”. Another sees it as “a great work of graduated ravines”, because it would involve using the rugged topography of Valpo to stage the work. That area where human waste enriches natural dirt: “the cat corridor had several stairs, one of them was La Fama, which started next to the homonymous liquor store. The smell of urine was very strong there, it was one of the clandestine pisses of municipal rank”. Pissing against the wind is a form of initiation.
Memorable subjects are this troupe, as black as the best in the center. From the names Mellado gave them. Eerie, symbolic. Nothing to do with the current flaites (and other less flaites), whose parents give them names like show business gringos. Thus Lautaro Bascuñán, bourgeois, architect, obsessed with the re-foundation of the city (or founding another one) and dedicated himself to filming the vicissitudes of the company. He likes movies. His name complicates it. His friend, style official girlfriend, is Fernanda Urmeneta, a bourgeois from Viña Mar, a kind of manager of the group. The more or less suitable theater men are the cultural agents Amleto Astudillo and his assistant, called the child Jesus, for the boy. The political operators are called Marat Bernales and Rosamel Araya. Other extras are Romualdito, an almost giant underdog who does everything, Betty, between Bascuñán’s nanny and companion in adventures; and María Conchuda, a feminist from the hills, fighter and dangerous, barren of chelas and chuchadas. Father Abelardo is from Casablanca, another possible benefactor, who gets along well with Lautaro Bascuñán, the work’s main spokesman and director. The priest has Romualdito as a helper and spy.
In a musical encounter, a particularly lively chapter of the novel, the theme is the music that comedy should have. The entire repertoire of the left’s sticky memory is revised; and where Amleto Astudillo dances the cumbia alone on a balcony, intoxicated by nostalgia and by the wine of the cuica Fernanda. He and his brother, the infant Jesus, have encountered worldly outbursts on the stairs of Buenos Aires, and rush, postponing the theatrical performance. They, the creatives of the group. Those who have put together, in a tasty chapter of the first part, their concept of doll theater and their attempts to put it into practice.
Marcelo Mellado is never conventional in his descriptions. He doesn’t try to parody or ironize, but to show doll makers as they are or want to be. Romualditus, deformed as well as awkward, “hid his body in his own body”. Marat Bernales is “administrative to express himself” and uses the expression “uncle” to get along with Lautaro Bascuñán, a “huevetero kin” much used among underprivileged opportunists to get along with those “from above”. As a man of the times, Marat speaks of “artistic injustice”, his version of the fashionable verbiage. Such injustice is practiced by the “club of the morbid”, the enemy who persecutes them, a factual group of facho cut composed of members of the Navy and hidden interests.
Marat believes in his heart in the spiritual and moral superiority of the rich, “so he intended to be close to them. I knew, yes, that the poor would have their moment of glory with the supreme revenge. There are many phrases with which each character defines their modest dreams and ambitions. Which brings us closer to the national reality, with the new voluntarist jargon that emerged from the explosions and the constituents. But, from behind, creeps a guatón Escudero, a spy paid by the old dictatorial powers, with experience, who “felt at ease in that environment of putrid aromas”.
Reading Marcelo Mellado isn’t that it’s complicated, but that it’s too engaging. One wants to enjoy that prose more, one of the best at home. After a first normal speed reading, I did a second one upside down, from back to front, as if I were holding Cortázar’s bell in my hand. I think that way I could understand the characters better. Taste the style better. Put the scatological in slow motion. I understood that Teatro de muñecos is above all a novel of situations, of speakers, of actors, and not of temporarily conditioned narratives. Her dolls are the dolls themselves. Their choirs the neighborhood. Nor is it about “anti-system” diarrhea with a fan, much less a manifesto against the need of the people to make “art”. A book consistent with this author’s imprint, which is kicks, punches or spits against that smug asshole who is still unable to recognize that Valpo’s plan is destroyed (with municipal complicity); and that the most brutal indecency sprouts and reigns everywhere; and that the mercantilist system they have concocted to promote artistic activity is fertile ground for decomposition.
An author who reasserts himself among the implacable spirits of national fiction.
Puppet Theater by Marcelo Mellado, La Pollera Ediciones, 2022