A review of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez' The Insatiable Spider Man
Tales of Havana, from a native son. The unnamed narrator, much like the semi-autobiographical Pedro Juan of Gutiérrez`s two previous books (Dirty Havana Trilogy and Tropical Animal, 2005, etc.), opens this collection with a dispassionate re-telling of former girlfriend Silvia`s rape and its consequences. He and Silvia break up; he then spends the next ten years drunk, nursing his wounds and inflicting them on others through sadistic, anonymous sex. In the 18 present-day stories, the narrator is 50 years old; married to Julia (a microbiologist who works at a pizzeria, the only job available to her); and somewhat recovered from his rejection by Silvia.(...)
Mostly he searches for rum and sex, of which there is no shortage. Sometimes the narrator finds beauty: in a flock of ducks flying north, in his struggle landing a 20-pound snapper. But the last exit visa has long since been handed out in Hubert Selby territory, and the narrator remains in the gutter, staring at . . . the gutter. With a hedonistic nihilism that makes Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski look like starry-eyed teenagers, Gutiérrez strives to stare unblinkingly into the abyss. Absent the artistry of his literary predecessors, however, he never makes the reader understand why his narrator doesn`t just jump.
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Cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutiérrez was born in 1950 in Matanzas, a small town north of Havana. He alternated his job as a newsvendor with that of ice-cream seller; he then was a sapper soldier, kayak and swimming instructor and also sugar cane cutter and farm labourer. In his thirties, he was a building engineer and a drawing teacher, and also dealt with radio and television as assistant director and documentary author. He graduated in journalism at the University of Havana and he also worked as TV presenter. He is currently a professor in Havana and is very well known as a sculptor and visual-experimental poet. He does not turn down the opportunity to act and entertain on the radio and TV. He loves traveling and obviously writing. In his homeland, he is known as a poet and sculptor, rather than as a story teller, because his novels are banned.