This is the story I'd read that led me to find that amazing Silvina Ocampo story a few days ago. I'd learned of Negrón while trying to help a friend find a story collection that both conformed to his class requirements and related to his LGBTQ+ literature interests, but I didn't get a chance to read any of Negrón's work until the other night. Since then, I've had trouble figuring out what to say about "The Garden" because it's much quieter than anything else I've shared so far. It's so quiet that it's easy to think that it goes nowhere and does nothing, but that's something I've heard people say about Alice Munro's work, and those people are wrong.
I both agree and disagree with the introduction to this piece by Maximiliano Papandrea, who claims that the story reads like something out of the golden age Hollywood. As an LA native, I find the most Hollywood thing about the story to be the mention of bougainvilleas, but I guess I can see it in the sense that we have three characters who seem rather privileged and removed from reality. The story does seem to project a vague sense of old-school glamour and mystery, but I find myself questioning the validity of the tone.
It feels sometimes like these characters are living in a fantasy, but in varying degrees. Sharon certainly comes off as some sort of wannabe femme fatale, harboring supposedly dangerous secrets from her brother, Willie, who is dying of AIDS in 1989. When she tells her secret to her brother's young lover, though, it sounds hard to believe, especially when she tells Nestito how to pronounce "I love you very much" in Chinese, and it's nowhere near wo ai ni. It's almost as though she's lying about her life, though it's hard to tell if she's lying to Nestito or to herself.
It's possible that I'm missing important aspects of Puerto Rican culture, but I find in reading this that social stature is a key factor to understanding what's really happening. It's not just that Sharon seems to live only for the men in her life. Willie, too, seems to be the leader of this trio simply because he's a white man, and his sense of self deflates with his HIV status. Willie and Sharon are also from an affluent academic family who live in financial comfort while lower class Nestito feels uncomfortable in their world except when in their home, and I wonder about his role in their lives and the reliability of his narration. There are some interesting descriptions of Willie and Nestito's love-making that contrast life-affirming desire with deathbed frailty, and while they're described lovingly I can't help wondering if this "corny" and sentimental narrator is actually seeing his situation through some thick rose-colored glasses.
Yet, I imagine that a lot of people would read this story more straightforwardly, readily believing that the story of these three people's lives together is exactly as our narrator describes. Admittedly, I could be very wrong to think that these characters are merely romanticizing their own lives, but that's kind of what I like about this story. It's so quiet that it's open to interpretation. It begs for readers to see more than what the characters say to one another and to us, and it reveals a bit of us to ourselves for seeing things the way we do.