Say Her Name
Fiction by Francisco Goldman
Published: April 13, 2011
Say Her Name
By Francisco Goldman
Grove Press; hardcover
The New Yorker published a piece from Francisco Goldman titled “The Wave” in February. In it, Goldman tells the heartbreaking story of his young wife Aura Estrada’s accidental death on a Mexican beach in 2007. It’s an excerpt from the end of his memoir/novel Say Her Name, but there is much more to his love story in what is essentially a 350-page exercise in loss.
Alternating his time frame to include different moments in the past and the present, Goldman—a writer and teacher of literature with childlike tendencies—tells of meeting the 20-years-younger Aura Estrada, a writer, sprite, and student in bilingual studies. She charms him with poetry during a night out drinking in New York; he sends her his book. They unexpectedly run into each other in a New Mexico dive bar; she attends graduate school at Columbia and lives in his Brooklyn apartment. They get married in Mexico under a stormy sky and with a burro saddled up with holsters of tequila.
Her death on a beloved beach in Mazunte, Mexico, during a vacation, months shy of their two-year anniversary, is such an incredible tragedy that it keeps radiating through his life, and he writes of its many effects. He loses their Mexico apartment and her ashes to Aura’s dominating and grief-stricken mother Juanita. He hangs Aura’s wedding dress above a makeshift shrine in what was once their (and now his) bedroom. The wished-for birth date of their not-yet-conceived child that he has tattooed on his shoulder comes and goes. He reads all of her writing—even her very last words—he fucks other women, he writes this book.
In reliving their history, Goldman questions his every decision and ponders destiny. He wrote e-mails to her after she died: “Sorry we didn’t rent the downstairs apartment when it came open so that we could have stayed here in New York that summer tending the garden instead of going to Mexico.” Why it’s a “novel” is unclear. All memoirs tell their own version of the truth, so perhaps Goldman’s is even less married to the facts. No matter really Say Her Name is a remembrance, a passage, and an elbow to the ribs: “Hold her tight if you have her; hold her tight, I thought, that’s my advice to all the living. Breathe her in, put your nose in her hair, breathe her in deeply. Say her name.”
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