Love and the Incredibly Old Man
A better title for this novel would have been “Sex and the Incredibly Old Man,” because there’s little love in this compendium of carnal adventures related by a 16th century Spanish conquistador.
Here’s the premise: The author receives a letter from a man who claims to be Ponce de Leon. Having discovered the Fountain of Youth five centuries ago, Ponce faked his death and lived under a series of aliases, shifting livelihoods and religions as required in order to protect the fountain through the years. Now the fountain has run dry, and Ponce is feeling his mortality. He needs someone to write his memoirs.
Five hundred years of history, yet all Ponce wants to talk about are his lovers. Spanish aristocrats, Native Americans, artists, actresses, whores, and other men’s wives—they all fall to their knees to worship him. Ponce insists that he “loves” every one of them: He also lies, cheats, denies them the secret of the fountain, and then abandons them when they notice he fails to age. This treatment of women is offensive enough, but it’s not the worst example of a subtle, insidious anger in this novel. What begins as a series of awkward metaphors—an attempt to thematically connect sex and religion—soon solidifies into something blatantly anti-Christian. The tipping point is a scene involving rosary beads and masturbation. After five hundred years, you’d think old Ponce might have learned something profound. Something about love, perhaps. Don’t look for it here.