Spinsterhood and Its Discontents in Daniel Sada's 'One Out of Two'

A bewitching story about sisterhood, spinsterhood, and identity by a celebrated Mexican writer.

One Out of Two

Publisher: Graywolf Press
Length: 112
Author: Daniel Sada
Price: $14.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2015-11-03

In Mexican novelist Daniel Sada’s novella One Out of Two, Constitución and Gloria Gamal are twin sisters who have been orphaned since age 13 when their parents were killed in a bus collision while on holiday. They have no other family members save for a meddlesome but kindly aunt with a pudgy husband prone to long naps and a brood of 11 kids, who takes the Gamal sisters in after their parents’ death and raises them in her cramped home. They sleep in a small room with their younger, rambunctious cousins, who are given to lifting the sisters’ skirts to take a peek. This existence is, in a word, “unbearable”.

However, “because it was a favor, the girls didn’t dare complain”. From the start of the book the reader has an idea of the Gamal sisters as cast-off oddities who always find themselves skirting around the edges of social relations. Even their parents, we learn, often took extended jaunts, leaving their daughters behind. In this way, quietly and resourcefully making do with an unbearable life, Gloria and Constitución develop into identical “unsightly young women” who have only their own wits, and each other’s, to rely on to get out of their aunt’s place and finally live with a freedom they long desire, thanks to a small inheritance that came from the sale of their parents’ home.

When the reader meets the Gamal sisters, they are in their 40 and full-fledged spinsters, living a mild but decent life in Ocampo as tailors, a life that is punctuated by routine and work -- ”dressmaking to the point of shuddering”, as Sada writes, faintly evoking the idea of sublimation of romantic and sexual desire into work that makes up the essence of the Gamal sisters’ life. The sisters, already identical, only seem to grow more alike with age and this is depicted as both their curse and blessing.

When their aunt invites them to the wedding of one of her children, drawing attention to the many single men who might be available, Sada allows us to realise that this is “the key to their perhaps most deeply buried preoccupation”. Like the Bunner sisters in Edith Wharton’s novella, the Gamal sisters have constructed a life of “daily drudgery and vain alienation”, broken only by nighttime conversations between themselves “accompanied by romantic music and generous libations”. The question of their sexuality, and how it wishes to be directed, hovers in the background. It’s not that the Gamal sisters don’t know pleasure; it’s that pleasure is best derived between themselves, with the other.

It becomes clear that this new pleasure, one of wedding parties and single men, cannot be jointly enjoyed by both sisters precisely because they are too alike. This existential problem is made out to be a smaller problem iso that it might be more bearable: who will stay behind to attend the shop?

Thus, the plot advances itself: only one of the two can go, and it is the one with the beauty mark -- the more gregarious one, Constitución -- who gets to party while Gloria stays back and takes on, as one, work meant for two. The pod has been broken; the peas have separated.

Naturally, Constitución meets a single man at the party, an eminently practical rancher named Oscar, and thus the wheels of deception are set in motion. Faced with the injustice of chance, Sada writes that the “quiet one was finally and ardently showing her mettle”, and so Gloria reminds Constitución that “what’s yours is mine”. As such, the sisters end up sharing Oscar during his weekly Sunday visits to Ocampo. He thinks he’s seeing one woman when he is in fact seeing them both alternately.

As a commonly-depicted ruse that is understood by the rest of us to be the domain of identical twins, this works almost too well: Oscar has no idea that one is actually two. “Intimacy is an idea that unravels”, Sada writes, and pleasure contributes to this unravelling. Gloria, thus having kept her desires for passion well-hidden, is the first sister to allow Oscar to kiss her. “Gloria could boast that she had briefly but forevermore tasted affection, or at least amicable deception”, writes Sada with a wink, and who is unable to relate to that?

As the deception matures into its inevitable resolution, the Gamal sisters have to deal with their increasingly insistent and pesky individual voices, dividing what was once a harmonious unity of two into (however suppressed) a selfish oneupmanship. As both keep their personal passions and desires close to their chest, because both want the same thing but in different ways and can only have it without the other, it becomes more difficult for them to even see each other. Looking into the mirror, they see four versions of themselves and it’s almost too much: “if the reflection is accurate, they were all ghosts, or the other way around”. Gradually, “they almost never looked at each other: a nascent horror of seeing themselves, like a curse, repeated”.

Later, when the beau sees the two of them together for the first time, he makes a curt observation: “Bloodcurdling copies”. The final decision reached by the sisters may or may not be a surprise -- destiny, as Sada writes, “is nothing but a trickster demon”, much like his wily prose -- and it's rooted in the realisation that individualism is “nothing but amorphous vanity”. Despite their aunt’s best intentions, the Gamal sisters never showed an inclination towards marriage and conventional heterosexual union, but One Out of Two shows the difficulties and sacrifices of a different type of union. The sisters’ relationship is a kind of marriage, and a refutation of amorphous vanity. Work, for them, is what keeps them from falling into a void where ghosts run wild, and responsibility towards on another is no slight consideration.

Beautifully rendered in Katherine Silver’s translation, Sada’s prose has a unique rhythm and is spry and wiry, leading the reader into unexpected philosophical ruminating that is laced with dry wit and playful humour. His prose is sprinkled liberally with colons and commas, with sentences that are formulated like equations and conventional truth, and meaning that dissembles and deconstructs itself; all of which is likely to be missed by the less-attentive, fast-skimming reader. For example:

The upshot, alas!: love sprouted, and grew, like ever-searching ivy: inwardly: by necessity: never flagging: a secret force that loses its way because it’s all so unfathomable; in the same way, hypocrisy was born: between the twins: how unbecoming!: and although they sensed it, they didn’t utter a peep about this dreary development because they wanted to avoid, they thought, a probably foolish confrontation.

This is a short, deceptively charming book that reads like poetry, with language that demands attention or else the plot, as it were, is lost. Silver, who has also translated works by César Aira and Castellanos Moya, ably conveys what one assumes is the jaunty roguishness of the original in English; it's clear from the start that Sada takes great pleasure in putting together a sentence, and this pleasure is conveyed to the English-language reader, thanks to Silver’s translation.

If One Out of Two lacks anything, it’s emotional depth due to its brevity and its otherwise delightful style. However, Sada has structured the book as a slim philosophical fable, and its psychological truths will continue to unnerve and reverberate long after one turns the final page.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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