Manrique, Jaime. Like this Afternoon Forever. New York: Akashic Books / Kaylie Jones Books, 2019. 221pp. ISBN: 9781617757150 (pb)/9781617757181 (hc).
In his new novel, Jaime Manrique takes us into the worlds and lives of two star-crossed lovers, Ignacio and Lucas, who meet in a Catholic school in Colombia in the early 1990s and forge a life-long bond. Against the backdrop of Colombia’s recent history of violence and poverty, their story combines love story and political thriller, with a touch of social criticism thrown in for good measure. We meet them as adolescents still struggling to understand their sexuality and their attraction to each other; we follow them as they navigate the outwardly conservative but secretly permissive world of the seminary and then grapple with liberation theology and its aftermath at university; and we root for them as they become ordained and take on their pastoral roles in the barrios of Bogotá. And we hope—perhaps against hope—that they will not fall victim to the de facto civil war between the gangs, the drug cartels, the guerillas, the paramilitaries, and the Colombian state.
Alas, as promising as the ingredients sound, the final product disappoints. Manrique’s prose is sparse, eschewing unnecessary literary flourishes, but it is also a little pedestrian. Passages detailing life in the seminary or Ignacio’s charitable endeavors often read as if they were written for a news feature, rather than parts of a novel.
Perhaps not surprisingly, plot and character development, too, are uneven at best. Why, for example, does the story open from Lucas’ perspective but then switches to Ignacio’s, with most of the exposition detailing Lucas’ complicated childhood and adolescence falling almost entirely by the wayside once the narrative perspective switches? Why is the mystery of the “false positives”—young men disappeared from the barrios and possibly killed for a ransom in the dirty war between the state and FARC guerillas—tacked on at the end, without really fitting in? And why is one of the more interesting dynamics in the relationship between the two protagonists—Lucas’ unwavering and perhaps slightly naïve faith versus Ignacio’s skepticism—not explored more fully, particularly with regard to how it affects their love for each other?
It’s a pity because both Lucas and Ignacio are quite interesting characters. Unfortunately, we never really get to know them as well as we might have. And because the ending—just like the entire novel—feels unnecessarily rushed, we close the book with a distinct sense of disappointment.
One final pet peeve: the novel would have benefitted from some editorial intervention, and the book certainly needed better copy-editing; while ungrammatical sentences and inconsistent pronoun use, for example, may only be minor annoyances, getting the two protagonists’ names mixed up (on p. 54) is downright confusing.