Tuesday, July 15, 2014
July 7 & 14, 2014 Issue
Héctor Tobar’s “Sixty-Nine Days,” in this week’s issue, impressively applies a spare aesthetic to describe a complex event – the sixty-nine day ordeal of thirty-three miners trapped deep inside the collapsed San José Mine. Tobar’s style is rich in simplicity. Using short, plain, point-and-shoot sentences, he delivers us directly into the miners’ hot, black, blasted, seemingly doomed reality – the sound of rock splitting (“When he lowered the window, he was assaulted by a deafening noise: the rumble of many simultaneous explosions, the sound of rock splitting”), the miners’ oily water supply (“When they shone their weakening lamps on the water, they could see a black-orange film and drops of motor oil”), their hunger (“They could not defecate, and the emptiness in their stomachs felt like a fist pushing downward”). Tobar’s art is in his details, e.g., the miners make a fire “the size of two cupped hands”; one miner watches another miner “pick up a discarded can of tuna and wipe the inside with his finger and lick it again and again”; one miner’s legs and feet are swollen, “and to keep him off the muddy floor, other miners built a bed from wooden pallets, and he lay there for hours, staring at the ceiling.” One of my favorite passages in “Sixty-Nine Days” is the description of the “picnic” at Level 135:
Sometimes Acuña turned the camera and captured the light from one of the vehicles, but mostly the image was of a black space filled with Sepúlveda’s voice: “We’re going to show that we are Chileans of the heart. And we’re going to have a delicious soup today.” Sepúlveda served each man with a metal cup that clanked against the bottom of the air-filter cover, pouring the hot, murky liquid into plastic cups.
That clank of the metal cup “against the bottom of the air-filter cover” is inspired! Tobar is a master plain-stylist.