This post contains affiliate links to independent bookstores.
I recently came across a quote from Argentine writer Guillermo Saccomanno which reads “el subrayado es aquel momento en el que sentís que el libro te está hablando a vos, hablando de vos, te encontró, te descubrió.” [“Underlining comes from that moment in which you feel that a book is speaking to you, about you; it found you and it found you out.”] That pretty much sums up how I feel about Lilián López Camberos’ short story debut – Quisiera quedarme quieta – published by Dharma Books. A lilting, alliterative title topping a soothing pastel-and-palm pasted front cover? I was sold and, once I started reading, I was seen.
At turns melancholic and introspective, the six stories which make up Quisiera quedarme quieta are windows into the inner worlds of their young female protagonists, concerned with travel and transit, fleeing and flux. They’re also stories marked by an almost absurd day-to-day quality. In fact, Camberos has talked about how Quisiera quedarme quieta aims to ‘detrivialise’ the narrative around young women, exploring the “banal, common, and typical” situations in which women find themselves.
So, then: beneath narratives of normality, private lives are sharply observed, and stereotypes are sidestepped. Camberos opens with a trip to Acapulco – or “Narcapulco”, as the protagonists’ friends warn them beforehand – where three women drop acid on the beach and pass by “a bloodstain or an oil slick” on the street leading to their hotel. They don’t know which. We pinball south to Buenos Aires in ‘Este adiós no maquila un hasta luego’, where Camberos captures the acute discomfort of being latched on to by an all too persistent stranger in a hostel. In ‘Sexo en la playa’, Cecilia pursues a threesome with an older married couple. I don’t know quite how normal that is, but her lingering sense of being used is universal.
And just as Camberos’ prose is keenly observed, her stories are marked by an enduring sense of observing and being observed from afar. In ‘El lado del mal’, Verónica looks at herself in the mirror but fails to recognise her own gaze; in ‘Acapulco’, the protagonist suspects she’s been watched, only to discover that – years prior – she was the one doing the watching; in ‘La planta’, which hinges on a woman obsessively observing a plant, Camberos opens with “hay una presencia aquí que no estaba antes de la planta.” [“There’s a presence here that didn’t exist before the plant.”]
It’s this disquieting evocation of self-consciousness and vulnerability is what, to my mind, makes Quisiera quedarme quieta, at its core, a book for and about young women. (Ojo: not exclusively for young women.) In each story, Camberos speaks to a specific kind of twenty-something malaise or angst – marked by a generalized disillusionment and desire for escape – one which seems even more appropriate in the context of 2020. Maybe I only think this because I’m living a specific kind of twenty-something angst? I don’t know.
Regardless, her protagonists display a familiar transitoriness, drifting from one situation to the next. One alternates between diaries and notepads during an introspective trip to Amsterdam; another reluctantly lets a Chilean traveller tag along and sightsee with them; and the first takes drugs and swims too far out to sea in Acapulco. You get the feeling they’re merely floating along in the current of life, (somewhat) willfully ignoring the bigger picture. As the protagonist overhears someone say in ‘Diario de Ámsterdam’: “We have to resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll never be adults.” Relatable.
Buy Quisiera quedarme quieta: Casa Tomada (Mexico)
About Lilián López Camberos
Lilián López Camberos (Mexico City, 1986) is a writer and journalist who has studied in Mexico and Argentina. Quisiera quedarme quieta is her first short story collection.