62: A Model Kit
|62: A Model Kit|
|Original title||62/Modelo para armar|
|Published in English||1972|
|Dewey Decimal||863 21|
|LC Classification||PQ7797.C7145 S413 2000|
62: A Model Kit (translated from 62/Modelo para armar) is a novel by Julio Cortázar published in 1968. It was written in Paris between Hopscotch and the release of Around the Day in Eighty Worlds in 1967.
The book revolves around an introspective group of friends who call themselves the Tartars. The intellectual boredom of the group has led them to invent various social experimental and mental diversions, the most important of which is referred to as "the City." The city is a kind of imaginary metropolis the Tartars have built over time as a possible alternative to the normal world in which they feel so stifled. There is also a being referred to as "my paredros," the spirit or collective will of the group that acts through one member or another when they are at their most playful.
The reader learns first about Juan, a translator by profession. Juan is one of the Tartars. It's Christmas Eve, and he is sitting alone in a restaurant meditating at length about a woman named Helene. Before concluding this inner monologue, Juan expresses a desire to reshuffle the events of the immediate past. The narrative then flashes back to describe Marrast, a sculptor living in London along with his girlfriend, Nicole, another member of the Tartars. The relationship between Marrast and Nicole is presented as an unhappy one, with Marrast indulging in painful speculations about Nicole's unrequited love for Juan. He has been contracted by a small town to start a new statue, but has yet to begin. Instead, he finds himself drawn to a painting in a museum that depicts an apparently useless branch in the hands of a medical doctor. Finding an ad one day inviting "sensitive, intelligent, anxious, or a little lonely" individuals to join something called "Neurotics Anonymous," Marrast decides to write to them about the piece to suggest that an investigation of it might be a more constructive use of their time. There are conflicting accounts about why he does this, or what he hopes to get out of it, but its immediate effects are soon related: the painting begins to receive more attention than those around it, which arouses the suspicions of the art museum's security and managerial staff, and Marrast meets a man who is familially connected to the institute's director, and to whom he passes a vague tale about certain undesirable persons attracted to the picture.
Helene, meanwhile, is presented at a later date struggling to come to terms with the death of a young man at the hospital where she works and who reminded her of Juan. For some time previously, she has been rejecting Juan's advances, but not because she does not reciprocate his feelings—again, as in Marrast's case, her motives are complex and perhaps ultimately undefinable. But on the way home, she stops at the Cluny, a cafe in Paris where the Tartars usually meet, and encounters the youngest member of the group, a student named Celia. Celia has run away from home, and having nowhere to stay for the night, is invited by Helene to come to her apartment.
The narrative twists in time again to present Juan before Christmas, and his lover, a woman named Tell who travels around the world with him. The pair are in Vienna where Tell has observed an old woman insinuate herself into a young female tourist's confidence. Believing something sinister is afoot, or perhaps just playing at believing, Juan and Tell check into the same hotel as the two women and begin to follow them. While Juan is at work, Tell watches the hallway outside the old woman's room in an effort to catch her visiting the girl, while at night, the couple takes turns. Finally, one evening while Juan is on guard, he does indeed see the old woman sneaking out of her room. Once she has proceeded to the second floor, he follows her.
Back in London, Marrast invites Austin, one of the "Anonymous Neurotics," to join the Tartars. He also agrees to teach the young man French. But this development backfires when Nicole seduces Austin, then leaves Marrast for Paris. Marrast's museum scheme ends with the controversial painting being suddenly removed by the director of the institute, much to the delight of the Tartars.
Meanwhile, at Helene's apartment, Celia plays with a mysterious doll that was sent to Helene by Tell, who was given it by Juan, who received it in turn from the original manufacturer, a man referred to as Monsieur Ochs. Ochs has been imprisoned for hiding objects in his dolls, most notably a masturbatory device, so there is no telling what is in this one. Celia shares Helene's bed, and in the middle of the night is groped by Helene and taken sexual advantage of. In the morning, as a humiliated Celia rushes to repack her things, she angrily throws the doll to the floor, where it breaks. The contents, which are never revealed to the reader, spill out, and Celia screams and runs away. She, like Nicole, heads to Paris.
Back at the hotel in Vienna, Juan and Tell follow the old woman, Frau Marta, to the young tourist's room, where they observe the girl sitting up in bed with two small marks on her neck, apparently waiting for a vampire attack. But the old woman removes the girl's top instead. She stands up and leaves the room with Frau Marta through a door that may or may not be part of the city. When Juan and Tell follow, they find themselves back in the heart of the city, where a confused Juan momentarily sees Helene on a streetcar, but can't reach her, and he loses sight of both Frau Marta and the young tourist girl.
Tell receives a letter from Marrast at this point detailing his and Nicole's breakup, and she leaves immediately to aid Nicole, whom Marrast may have poisoned with sleeping pills. While she is away, Juan intercepts another letter written to her, but from Helene. Helene implies that Juan, through Tell, sent the doll himself as a childish reaction to Helene's continued rejection of his romantic advances. Mortified by the accusation, Juan rushes off to Paris to proclaim his innocence.
In Paris again, the narrative describes the efforts of another Tartar, Polanco, to use the engine from a lawn mower to power a small canoe, as he fancies himself a kind of inventor. The Tartars agree to assist, but in the middle of their planning, someone from Scotland Yard arrives at the door. It seems Marrast's museum scheme has disturbed the government itself, and the group is informed that it might be in their best interests to leave the country, at least temporarily.
But first there is the matter of the canoe. The Tartars successfully attach the mower to the canoe, but it's much too powerful for the small craft and knocks them overboard when they make a trial run with it in the small pond near where Polanco works. They seek refuge on an island in the middle of the pond, but the water is mysteriously rising. A chaotic scene unfolds with Polanco's girlfriend and others on the shore trying to "rescue" them, as they steadfastly refuse to simply wade back across. Finally Marrast arrives, blinking in disbelief. He takes a makeshift boat out alone to retrieve the pranksters.
Soon it's time for the great unveiling of Marrast's sculpture, and all the Tartars attend the ceremony, even Nicole. Celia and Austin have fallen in love by this time, and Juan and Helene have spent a passionate night together. But the sculpture turns out to be a typical Tartar production, much to the outrage of the townspeople who paid Marrast a small fortune to make it. The group is delighted with the results, both of the piece itself and of the crowd's reaction to it.
The book concludes with most of the Tartars returning to Paris by train. A distracted Nicole wanders off at the wrong stop and finds herself in the city, by a canal. Celia and Austin also get off, ostensibly to look at cows. In the gloomy train car, Juan sits across from Helene and tries to talk to her, but realizes that nothing has changed. The other Tartars have gotten off to look for Nicole, whom they presume is walking alone along the tracks towards Paris. Helene, unaccountably back in the mysterious city, opens a door in a hotel and walks into a dark room where Austin jumps out and stabs her to death. Juan, following, leans over the body a moment before exiting the room through a door that opens directly onto the canal—where he sees Nicole on a barge with the sinister Frau Marta. The last sentences of the book describe the remaining Tartars in a jocular group again, resuming their play at the train station in Paris.
62: A Model Kit doesn't have a main character, being occupied instead by characters of varying importance to the plot. These include Marrast, a sculptor, Juan, a translator or interpreter, Helene, an anesthetist living in Paris, Calac, a writer from Argentina, and Celia and Austin, who are students. Other Tartars include Tell, Polanco, Nicole, Feuille Morte, and Osvaldo, who is actually a pet snail. Characters of minor importance include Frau Marta, Polanco's girlfriend, and Señora Cinnamomo, who is a witness to the festivities of the Tartars on several occasions. None of the main characters are given proper last names by Cortázar, while a few of the lesser ones do have one, such as the director of the art museum, Harold Harroldson. Some characters are referred to but never actually appear in the narrative, like "the countess" and Monsieur Ochs.