It was about the commander of a death squad in El Salvador who falls in love with a nun he’s supposed to massacre (Nell Zink’s Mislaid)

Meg took advantage of Karen’s absence to start another play. It was about the commander of a death squad in El Salvador who falls in love with a nun he’s supposed to massacre. In the early drafts, they were a man and a woman. They were always in bed by act 1, scene 2, because they didn’t have much to say to each other.She decided to draft them as lesbians to make them more communicative. Afterward she could go back and change the death squad commander character to be male. But it didn’t work. The openhearted death squad commander refused to seem male to her.

She rewrote him as a man. Pouty and sarcastic. Instantly the nun became a solicitous bore. He ignored her. And there they were again, back in bed.

She tried again, establishing the female character first, in scenes with other nuns. Now the death squad commander seemed superfluous. She made him win her heart away from the nice nuns by being even nicer, but they were both so unsexy as affectionate chatterboxes, the love story just fell apart. They had to ignore each other to get anything done.

She tried one last time. She rewrote him as a complete jerk. Instead of falling in love with anybody, the commander said he would kill his own death squad to have sex with the nun. Afterward the nun went to bed with him to reward him. It was kind of sexy.

Meg saw a distinct pattern to it: patriarchy.

She had wanted to write about idealized partners. But the impressive men she had known weren’t anybody’s partner. They were lone wolves and dictatorial heads of families. The idea of partnering with a powerful man—well, it sounds nice enough, but even on paper it won’t fly. A novel ends with a wedding for a reason. Partnership is antidramatic. Partners are not adversaries. Partners don’t fuck. Yet she dreamed of loving a lesbian partner. Was she stupid?

Lee had been sexy to her at one time. But it wasn’t because they had a relationship. It was the opposite. Because they didn’t. And then she stupidly became his partner. She wasted her love on a wolf. What an excellent use of her youth and beauty! She glared at the typewriter, blaming it for her existential angst.

She finished the play with the nun sacrificing the other nuns one by one to protect the death squad commander from the revenge of his dead death squad’s death squad friends. She tore it into very small pieces and buried it deep in the trash can.

From Nell Zink’s novel Mislaid.

Mislaid is taking me a lot longer to get through than The Wallcreeper, maybe in large part because I’m reading it as an ebook, which means it’s competing with other stuff on my iPad that’s easier to read after a glass or two (or bottle or two) of red wine—Wittgenstein’s aphoristic Culture and Value, which I can squint at, or Netflix, which is also easier to read. But Mislaid is not uneasy to read at all—it’s good stuff—very very funny, pivoting into plots and places unexpected. The passage above stands on its own (I think), but also does a fair job summarizing (a part of the piece of an aspect of) the plot.

2 thoughts on “It was about the commander of a death squad in El Salvador who falls in love with a nun he’s supposed to massacre (Nell Zink’s Mislaid)”

  1. I entered your blog to check this McLuhan video about violence and identity, related to violence in El Salvador. How refreshing, to see this here (or not). But anyway, good post.

    Like

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