They say that when you go blind your other senses become magnified. In Lina Meruane’s Seeing Red (Deep Vellum 2016), it is not the senses, but the emotions of the protagonist that become magnified. Lina—yes, that is her name—is a writer who suffers from an unusual disorder in her eyes that leads to a bleeding that hollows her mind and her everyday life. This story is based on the author’s own sight issues, which makes Seeing Red a piece of auto-fiction, but to be honest, I prefer to call it a decided attempt of writing while blind. Odd as it sounds, it is precisely this blindness, of both the author and the protagonist, what makes Seeing Red such a vivid tale:
Time was speeding up. A shower. A brushing of teeth. A drying of the face. Full suitcases that exhale on closing. A Dominican taxi ordered by telephone and the subsequent arrival of a taxi that would be anything but yellow. The driver, who spoke a Caribbean Spanish, barely said a word to us, turned up the radio and muzzled us with a merengue that could have been bachata. My head already set off on its own trip, and only the shell of my body remained, disregarded in the backseat.
The reader will walk on these pages as if blind, surrounded by sharp objects that inflict pain, nostalgia, loneliness. Seeing Red is not only a story about becoming blind, it is a story about fear, trust, and the limits of love. Lina walks “by touch” through the streets of the New York and Santiago de Chile, but also through the aisles and rooms of what used to be known and remembered: her eyes, her passion, her writing.
Because as the world went black, everything that belonged to it was also left in the dark. Now there were voices that completed the unseen or that read to me tirelessly. I could fast forward or rewind them, interrupt them. Listening to borrowed novels suspended the anguish of not being able to write, it kept me from stopping to think about what I wasn´t writing, about what I would never write.
Lina is helpless, everything that surrounds her “seems to be a crowd of sound all elbowing and shoving.” She deals with this new dark-reddened world with her fingertips in an attempt to not be “dead weight” on her lover as she once was on her brother. It is precisely to Ignacio, her lover, that sometimes this story is addressed to, but ultimately it is for her that she chronicles this loss, even though she has decided to stop writing, because as her friend Raquel says, “you don’t write, she said, with just your eyes and your hands.”
Lina, the character, writes about the blindness of love, about the holes, the flashes, the surgeries, about what it was and what it will never be. Lina, the author, writes as a means of cautery and brings an ending that it is also the beginning of an eye for an eye. Seeing Red was originally published in Spanish and it comes to life with a strong and beautiful translation by Megan McDowell, who is able to render and magnify Lina Meruane´s visceral and blinding language.