“When you have lied about something so long, you don’t know when it is safe!”Posted by Gardens of Resistance
Infinite Tasks and I are rewatching The Sopranos, which is our all-time favorite TV show. We just passed (*spoiler alert!*) the part of Season 6 where Vito is outed to the mob family, and soon his whole community, as gay. He runs away and stumbles upon a small, gay-friendly community in New Hampshire and begins to fall in love with Johnny Cakes. As their heads tilt for a first kiss, Vito freaks out, calls Johnny a fag and starts a fight. Luckily, Johnny is one tough dude and Vito doesn’t kill him. Soon, Vito realizes that he has fucked up what may be the love of his life, or at least his first opportunity to actualize a relationship with a guy. He shows up at Johnny’s cafe and says,
“When you have lied about something for so long, you don’t know when to stop. You don’t know when it is safe.”
Sophia, Mirna and Yara have a lot in common with each other in these letters (and ultimately with Vito). They all come from strong-willed and eccentric mothers (okay, maybe ranging from eccentric to crazy) and they all have some variation on rebelling against them, while also following in their footsteps. The paths that they take in life reinforce some of their self-deceptions, and they all use “game playing” (which I am here considering an extension of their self-deception) to manipulate others.
Their lies have ways of keeping them safe. Mirna has to believe that she has some control over what happens around her. Even if she continues to make bad choices by dealing with the devil, she still has something to do with her fate. Yarostan realizes that, to Mirna, prison represents a kind of safety because her family life was driving her mad. A prison term would be a relief from the belief system that was, in a sense, a prison that she had built for herself. As for Sophia, we continually see her making supposed radical breakthroughs, as she hooks up and abandons various men. She fools herself into thinking that she is furthering herself from Luisa, but it is not hard to see that she is following in her footsteps. She finds temporary solace in the patterns that she knows best. And Yara, though only eleven years old, is already proving to excel in the world of make-believe.
The second common thread in these letters were the “games” that the characters were playing with others. It is clear at this point in the book that Perlman takes his characters to unbelievable extremes (and he appears unlikely to turn back any time soon!). Devil-possessed mountaintop incest, catatonic hysteria and reverse-gendered non-consensual sex are not a part of normal lives.
Perlman uses sexual power as the primary way for females in this book to exert power over others. This is pretty ironic, since he concurrently criticizes Pat for being a sexist. Why rely on the women’s sexual acts so much to give them a sense of empowerment?
The imagery of “shattering the porcelain statue,” which Yarostan claims to have attempted when sleeping with Sophia 20 years previously, resonates with her deeply. She is angry that she is hollow, compliant and prudish and that these are things she has never been able to overcome. She has been in self-denial. Her mother is a seductress and politico and she followed blindly. Since these qualities do not reflect who she actually is, she could only able to adopt them in principle but not in feeling. She went through the motions of seduction, but unlike Luisa, she had no “cause” to recruit these seduced men to. After their destruction, she didn’t really have much to do with the trail of shattered men left in her wake.
Then, Sophia describes her attack on Pat in the same way as Yarostan described his seduction of Sophia: as a plan to shatter a porcelain statue. What she is really out to destroy is the conservative way in which Pat is able to act on his desires, but she also has admitted from the beginning that she wants to humiliate him. As if he isn’t talking his talk by not wanting to screw her in Luisa’s living room.
“Pat runs from the open door and grabs the clothes strewn around the living room, exactly as I ran from the street entrance of the carton plant. A porcelain statue is shattered. Pat dresses in a corner of the room and bolts through the door.”
It isn’t quite clear whether Pat, Luisa, Daman or even Sophia herself is the porcelain statue that she intends to shatter. As she admits, she may have shattered several. Seen through this lens, the “love games” that Mirna plays are actually more honest, innocent and straightforward than these manipulative love games being played by Sophia. All of the “shatterings” are an attempt by the perpetrator to break a person from the lies that they are telling themselves about who they are. Still, “when you have lied about something so long, you don’t know when it is safe.”