Book Notes: Sara Mesa’s The Family

Sara Mesa is one of the best Spanish writers of the moment but her books are hit-and-miss. Some are brilliant, and some are disappointing. The Family is beautifully written and has a great premise but it ultimately fails because the author can’t stay faithful to the idea she’s trying to develop, and the novel ends up disintegrating into unfinished sketches that never come together.

Here’s what makes The Family interesting. It’s a novel about a bad, oppressive father. Usually, bad fathers in literature differ according to their political leanings. Bad right-wing fathers are tyrannical, controlling, religious, and omnipresent. Bad left-wing fathers are absent, distant, atheist, promiscuous and sexually inappropriate. In The Family, Sara Mesa tries to create a bad left-wing father who isn’t absent or promiscuous. He’s controlling, omnipresent, and sexually austere at the same time as he is woke.

Unfortunately, Mesa doesn’t go all in on the father’s wokeness. He’s the leftist of the 1980s and 1990s, which means that much of today’s woke insanity didn’t yet exist. If she’d set the novel today and really went for it, that would have been one great book. Instead, she runs out of steam, gets confused, and ends up with a set of vignettes that never really lead anywhere.

My First Painting

It’s ready!

As I said, I have zero talent, so I used a paint-by-numbers kit. Like the kind that little kids use but this one is for adults. It’s broken up into the tiniest pieces, and there are 24 colors in the palette.

I’m giving this one to N. The next one will be Christmas-themed, and I’m giving it to Klara. The third one will be for me.

Literally, anybody with at least one hand and one eye can do it, and it’s extremely cheap. It’s the best hobby, people. I highly recommend.

The Adult Thing to Do

I strongly believe that you don’t fully become an adult until saying “I was wrong, I made a mistake” becomes easy. This is the moment when you leave behind the childhood narcissism and enter adulthood.

For children, it’s intolerable to lose face by recognizing that they were wrong. This is why an intelligent adult always gives a child an easy, face-saving way out of a mistake or an instance of bad behavior. Children’s sense of self isn’t yet strong enough to withstand the discomfort of being in the wrong. Trying to force them to apologize or recognize their wrongdoing with words is counterproductive because it delays the creation of a mature sense of self that can easily deal with being fallible.

When I first started working here, I messed up and got a senior colleague into a lot of trouble. This colleague was always sweet to me, and I felt like a bastard. There was no way for the colleague to discover who was at fault. She and everybody else blamed another person who is genuinely annoying and disliked by everybody. It wasn’t easy to go to the senior colleague (who was going to be on my tenure committee) and take responsibility. Looking into her face and seeing her disappointment in me was unpleasant. But I did it because it was the right thing to do. I still cringe inwardly when I remember the moment of having to expose myself not as a competent colleague but as somebody who messes up stupidly. But this is how growth happens.

I see it with students, too. It’s very rare to see somebody who is mature enough not to blame everybody else and their uncle for their own mess-ups. But when I see a rare student who manages to do it, I know that this is somebody who will do fine in life.

All They Want

“All they want is a guarantee that the NATO won’t expand.”

I’m still waiting for the people who kept saying that “this is about the NATO” to do the adult thing and come tell me that they were wrong.