Death Constant Beyond Love by Gabriel García Márquez, 1970
The magic trick:
Using the first sentence to both give away the plot’s conclusion and tease its meaning
In the “Death Constant Beyond Love,” we are hooked by a seemingly ruinous first sentence with no spoiler alert. “Senator Onesimo Sanchez,” we read, “had six months and eleven days to go before his death when he found the woman of his life.” It is an arresting opening, one that reveals the plot’s end while also leaving enough empty space to keep us interested.
I’ve been thinking about this recently with regard to two films out in theatres right now (I blog these out wayyyy in advance) – “Foxcatcher” and “Big Eyes.” Both films feel fenced in, to me at least, by their straight-line plots. There is a setup, yes, but the main intrigue in both stories consists only of the ultimate outcome. That’s a tough spot to put a writer in. If you know going in, or figure out early on, where the story is going, the journey to get there can feel fairly interminable.
So here is “Death Constant,” a story that makes no mystery whatsoever about what is going to happen in the end. The Senator will meet a woman and then die six months later. And sure enough, the first sentence doesn’t lie. That’s exactly what happens. But where the aforementioned films fail to generate significant character development or nuanced theme, “Death Constant” unfolds layer after layer of sadness. Each character is guilty and groping for grace. The setting is desperate. The politics are criminal. It is beyond sad.
The notion that Laura Farina is the “woman of his life” for the Senator, as promised in the opening, takes on surprising and damning meanings. Far from spoiling the plot, the first sentence only sets up the emotional gut punch leveled by the story. And that’s quite a trick on García Márquez’s part.
Senator Onesimo Sanchez had six months and eleven days to go before his death when he found the woman of his life. He met her in Rosal del Virrey, an illusory village which by night was the furtive wharf for smugglers’ ships; and on the other hand, in broad daylight looked like the most useless inlet in the desert, facing a sea that was arid and without direction and so far from everything no one would have suspected that someone capable of changing the destiny of anyone lived there. Even its name was a kind of joke, because the only rose in that village was being worn by Senator Onesimo Sanchez himself on the same afternoon when he met Laura Farina.