Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork
Jasmine's only 19 years old, but she's the manager of the mailroom at Sandoval and Holmes. While it might seem like a bit of a dead-end job for a pianist whose true passion is music, Jasmine's got a plan: she's only working in the mailroom until she has enough money saved to move back home to Vermont, take care of her father, and build her own music studio on the family farm.
All the boys want to get with her, but Jasmine's not havin' it. When Wendell, the smarmy son of Arturo's law partner Stephen Holmes, smarms at her with his smarminess, he tells Marcelo he's just doing it because Jasmine's so beautiful. Marcelo reports this to Jasmine, whose response is to ask Marcelo if he's ever felt greed for something. When Marcelo answers that he feels greedy whenever he sees a CD he wants, Jasmine says, "Right. Well, when I'm around Wendell, I feel like that CD would if it could feel" (9.67).
Let's just say this girl doesn't have it easy. Men don't treat her very well, and she works her butt off in a fairly thankless job. It's a good thing she's got Marcelo around to keep her company. But to be fair, we think she'd be fine on her own, too.
Who Needs a Boyfriend When There are Pianos in the World?
See, Jasmine's not concerned with trying to shmooze anybody, and she's not one of those girls who needs a boyfriend, and she's perhaps the most insightful, self-actualized person in the book. She knows who she is, she knows what she wants, and she's not afraid to voice her opinion, like when Marcelo tells her Glenn Gould plays "more correctly" than Keith Jarrett and she says, "I can't believe you said that. You are so, so wrong" (17.93).
She's also unafraid to live by herself in tiny room in a Chinatown boarding house "mostly used by immigrants from Cambodia" (14.94). When she brings Marcelo over to visit, he describes her apartment as "a rectangular room only slightly larger than my tree house" (14.90), but as long as she has her keyboard and her walls of CDs, she's cool. Unlike the others at the law firm, Jasmine has managed to keep her passionate and compassionate sides alive, primarily through music.
Even though she wanted someone else to work for her in the mailroom for the summer, she recognizes a kindred spirit in Marcelo. When she makes the same kind of to-do list for him that he makes for himself, causing his eyes to fill with tears for the first time, we see that this no-nonsense girl is capable of true empathy and insight. She's just not one to show her hand unless it really matters—and when she finds that one rare person in the world whose brain matches hers, she realizes that it really matters.
Life in Vermont
Jasmine eventually lets Marcelo in on a secret: she grew up on a farm in Vermont, and now that her mother and brother are dead, she goes back there regularly to take care of her dad Amos, who's suffering from dementia. Just in case you were wondering if Jasmine's really all that tough, you'll have no doubts when she loads Kickaz, the horse that killed her brother, down with supplies and hikes three hours through the hills to restock Amos's fishing cabin on a hidden lake.
On their hike, Marcelo learns that Jasmine even hunts. He asks her if she's ever killed an animal with a gun, and she tells him, "Sometimes the meat from venison lasts us all winter" (24.22). In that moment, she changes Marcelo by introducing him to a world in which people are grateful just to have food, and he changes her by allowing her to trust, love, and open up to another person.
When Jasmine goes back to Vermont, she's going back to her roots; to the people who really mean something to her. So when she brings Marcelo along, she's telling him he means something to her, too. After all, you don't see her inviting Wendell or anyone else from the law firm. She's taking Marcelo out of the Real World and into the Even Realer World, in a way.
She's showing him that meaningful human relationships are based on love and trust, not money and what one person can do for another (think Wendell and the way he tries to get Marcelo to do his work). Sure, she invites him along for the weekend because she enjoys his company, but she's also doing it for herself. Marcelo's the only genuine person she's met at the law firm, and she wants to get to know him better.
When, at the end of the book, he tells her he wants to move there, she doesn't tell him he's nuts. Instead, she starts crying and says, "… there are no places to hide, not anywhere" (31.69). And it's true, of course—Vermont is full of problems, just like Boston. There's poverty, winter, hard work, and an increasingly senile Amos. But it's not a no. It's not a "don't come with me." She's crying because she's finally found someone who sees what Vermont means to her, and wants to come along because she means so much to him.