Nervous System by Lina Meruane with David Hill Petilliant Naturel
I first read this month’s novel in May of 2021. Since then a narrow but vast window of time has passed. In some ways, the me of last year feels almost unrecognizable. Then, I felt firmly submerged in the space where Lina Meruane’s novel Nervous System begins: in the world of the “restless present.” When I read it again last week, I was a different body. Cells extinguished swallowed renewed; I underlined completely different lines, my synapses firing at new messages. The me of the present is likely still restless, but what I am left with now is not so much the singularity of grief illness pain, but with the sense of a collective one. One that pulses swirls churns across this novel—more galaxy moving map than linear story.
Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking about what it means to be insufferable, as a character and a human: to be at odds with society’s insistence that we must hold our suffering on the inside, quietly. How a person’s pain is/can be atomic bilious pervasive, and to wear our pain on the outside is to have it judged: deemed worthy or unworthy, believable or not. Perhaps, what’s stayed with me most about this novel is how the narrator wears her pain “like another skin.” And how “that thought radiates through [her] cheeks and spatters [her] tongue.” The map of illnesses and injuries in this novel are very real, lived pains, but the lack of solid verifiable forward time can leave the reader feeling disoriented left behind. What Meruane gives us instead is a dotted line to follow into the unknown: splinters and fragments of “a system in circulation, a moving brain that traverses the body.” And, in the end, sometimes we need to be outside of time to see the whole system.
This month’s wine seems, at first, antithetical to a novel of this kind, so much so that I caught myself asking on a few occasions if it could really work? But then I was reminded that what often works for me is more sense than specificity. Something I can’t quite see: a galaxy that keeps moving. This month’s wine, a bright sweet bitter sparkling Riesling from the Tualatin Hills tastes like “orange peels and squeezed out tea bags.” Its delicate bubbles give the sense of something lingering deep inside, a reverberation I can taste like “swallowing the ocean whole again and again and again.” The act of drinking bubbles is, for me, always an immersive experience. And this month’s wine moves like Meruane’s poetic language: an atomic burning electrocution to the whole system, and the way it really works is by existing inside of us—an echo that keeps echoing within.
Lina Meruane is a Chilean author of the novels Seeing Red and Nervous System, translated by Megan McDowell, as well as several works in Spanish. She is the recipient of grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment of the Arts, and she currently teaches Latin American Literature and cultures at New York University.
David Hill winery is a pre-prohibition estate in Oregon, WA. This Pet-Nat is part of the David Hill discovery series, which focuses on single old-vine varietals. This Riesling is aged on the lees in neutral oak barrels, undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, and is unfined and unfiltered. The winery does add a little additional Riesling musk at bottling to ensure complete fermentation.