Review: The Torturer’s Wife by Thomas GlaveThe Torturer’s Wife
Published by City Lights Publishing
Reviewed by Eric Karl Anderson
The Torturer’s Wife brings together a collection of stories from acclaimed writer Thomas Glave. It seems fitting the book is dedicated to Nadine Gordimer who is also a fan of Glave’s work. Like much of Gordimer’s writing, Glave’s stories focus on characters who haven’t been allowed a voice or whose ability to speak has been silenced through death and the machinations of government and/or society. Though the subject matter is heavy, the author’s beautiful use of language gives meaning and substance to what are sometimes horrific events. More importantly, Glave bears witness to incidents often ignored just as he did in his collection of essays Words to Our Now. However, in this book a poetic voice is given to these characters so that their stories are transmuted into a mythic structure, giving resonance to their struggles which speaks beyond the limits of their time and location.
The title story focuses on a privileged wife who has discovered that her husband is involved with the torture and death of political prisoners. In the 1970s the Argentinian right-wing military cracked down on dissidents; thousands were tortured, drugged and flown out to be dumped into the ocean. In Glave’s story the voices of these victims rise out of the ocean to assail this woman’s ears and their body parts fall from the sky to litter her home and garden. More than the survivors of the violent political conflicts portrayed in heart-rending flashing glimpses, these stories are populated with the dead who have been swept aside, their tongues cut out and corpses annihilated. Glave manages to not only give a voice to these casualties of history, but a face and a body so that their physical bulk cannot be denied or ignored.
While many of the stories refer to specific struggles in time of war, others such as “Between” and “South Beach , 1992” speak about interpersonal conflicts between lovers, and specifically troubles which occur within gay relationships. The barriers of racial and class difference are explored just as sensual discoveries are made. Fear and disgust are revealed when it’s discovered a partner is HIV+. These intensely-felt intimate moments between men reveal darker truths about their feelings and often-ignored divisions within the gay community.
Glave’s narratives seamlessly interweave components of speech with descriptions of place and the internal thoughts of the characters. His olfactory-driven prose give an immediacy to the time, location and physicality of his characters, making his stories come vibrantly alive. Many of these stories explore what it means when the terms in which a person defines herself or himself are shattered, leaving them grasping for language with which to articulate who they are. Identity is divided in order for the individual to cope with the extremity of emotion and maintain aspects of themselves they don’t want to lose. Glave employs radically diverse styles and structures to describe this process making his writing some of the most exciting and spirited I’ve read for a long time.