The Nenoquich

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A fawn tabby cat with a striped tail and a black fluffy cat lie on a bed with a book between them. The black cat's tail brushes the shoulder of the tabby.

Sketching in the Outdoors

For the last few months, I’ve been taking my commonplace book on our hikes and trying to sketch some nature while we’re walking. Today, I was finally rewarded with the opportunity to sketch a deer that was lying down in a valley below us. While, I’m not fully happy with the finished drawing, I am happy that I got the chance to quietly draw an animal in nature.

I do draw the cats quite often, but even they can be challenging if they’re in a pose that isn’t sleeping or nearly sleeping. I want to be able to draw birds at the feeder eventually but that requires me to be quicker than I am at the current moment. My lovely spouse has told me that practice will make perfect and I know that she’s right.

A brown tabby with a striped tail lies beside a book picturing an Aztec sacrifice. Behind her, a fluffy black cat is sleeping.

What Is a Nenoquich?

Before I discuss anything else I’ll just go ahead and define nenoquich. It is a word derived from an Aztec term (specifically nēmontēmi) that refers to a ‘worthless person’. The original Aztec relates to five ‘worthless’ days at the end of the yearly cycle. Children born during these days were thought not to amount to much and be doomed to poverty and ill luck; these children were referred to as ‘nenoquich’.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the novel which centers around Harold Raab and how useless he is. Raab has just quit his career and is trying to become a writer, but instead finds himself lost in the Berkeley, California of the 1970s. He hangs out with his roommates, does some drugs, and ends up becoming obsessed with seducing Charlotte Cobin, a married woman who moves just outside his circle of friends. However, once the affair begins, Raab is left questioning why he entered into it and what exactly to do with his waning affections for Corbin.

A chubby brown tabby cat sits beside a book. The book depicts an Aztec sacrifice, where the victim is being disembowel at the top of a temple.

What Is This Really About?

I think it’s important to realize early that the novel is not truly about Raab and Corbin’s affair. It is not a book about a successful seduction and the ups and downs of the passion and when it dies. Instead, this is an intense character study. Raab is a person who is at a loose end and doesn’t know what to do. He is estranged from his parents and, more importantly, he is utterly estranged from himself and the man that he always assumed he was. Corbin and the relationship Raab has with her is many things, but most often she is merely a pastime or a challenge before she becomes a conquest he wishes to dispose of.

A fawn tabby's tail wraps around The Nenoquich by Henry Bean. A black cat sleeps behind the book.

There are female characters in the book besides Corbin, but the reader spends the most time with her and that makes it difficult to see beyond the fact that Bean makes her an object in the narrative and not much more than that. Though the point of the book is Raab and Raab’s horrible behaviour, this reduction of Corbin to not much more than body parts and a few annoying traits bereft of any kind of complexity definitely leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

Two cat tails frame The Nenoquich by Henry Bean. The book's cover depicts a bloody Aztec human sacrifice.

What Is a Life?

Surprisingly, what The Nenoquich turns into at the end of it all is a meditation on what makes a life and what constitutes a life wasted or one ultimately worth living. As Corbin’s health takes a startling turn for the worse and medical complications render her near death, Raab must confront what living truly means and if he is truly living at all. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that the novel at least mostly redeems itself in the final chapters and becomes something beyond the limitations of the bulk of the work.

A long-haired black cat and a short-haired brown tabby sit on either side of a book: The Nenoquich by Henry Bean.

It’s when tragedy is introduced that the reader realizes what all the development was for, including Raab’s aggravating excavations into all of the strata of his own shallowness. But even this twist of fate doesn’t make amends for all of Corbin’s flat characterization and her objectification.

In short, The Nenoquich is an intriguing read and I would recommend it if you have an interest in literature from this time and place. However, I would warn you that it definitely hasn’t aged very well in several key aspects, most of them involving female representation and diverse perspectives.

A fawn tabby cat with a striped tail and a black fluffy cat lie on a bed with a book between them. The black cat's tail brushes the shoulder of the tabby.

Wet Feet

As much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s time for a new pair of winter boots. My socks and feet were soaked when we got home and, even though it’s been hours, my feet are still cold. I’ve noticed that, for the last year or so, my joints seem reluctant to warm up at the same rate that the rest of me does. Often I’ll get this achy, cold feeling that will just not budge until I have a hot bath or a hot water bottle on them. And sometimes even then it will be an age until they feel warm.

I hate to think about what my joints are going to feel like in a decade. All I can think is that maybe my grandmother was right, and I should have been wearing warmer mittens all of this time.

A tabby cat looks over her shoulder. Beside her is a book.

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