Bad Luck: Anthology Curated by Yuri Herrera from Traviesa – a Review

Bad Luck: Anthology Curated by Yuri Herrera
Traviesa, 2013, pg ±51
Featuring stories from
Elvira Navarro
Fabián Casas
Wilmer Urrelo
Iris García Cuevas

Traviesa anthologies are collections of Spanish language stories curated by a guest editor and published as ebooks. To date Traviesa has published 3 anthologies. I believe this is the most recent, though it probably doesn’t mater. All of their anthologies have a theme, this one was bad luck. All the stories revolve around Yuri Herrera’s idea of bad luck.

I picked this collection to read first (the publisher has sent me all three editions) because of all the stories in their volumes I wanted to read the Elvira Navarro story most. I’m not particularly familiar with her work. I’ve only read what was in the Granta edition of young Spanish narrators a few years back. To date she doesn’t have much out in English except one recently published novel. Her story, Toothache (Trans: Janet Hendrickson), is about a pseudo couple that have a fake wedding and a fake honeymoon on the Canary Islands. The groom has more than a toothache, he has a growing abscess in his mouth that as the vacation goes on gets worse and worse, smelling like rotting seafood and making it more and more difficult for the narrator, the bride, to kiss him. The rot that comes form his mouth is endemic in their relationship, which is not one of histrionics or fights, but a slow decay and disillusion. The story starts with a bang and has such promise:

July had been swelteringly hot, and ice cream melted the minute you stepped out the Palazzo doors; we’d been going there for months, as if it were a ritual or a religion that helped us last until nightfall, when the heat dissolved into threads of air and I’d had enough and Manuel pressed a T-shirt holding heart-shaped ice cubes against his cheek, the ice cube trays a gift from a bachelorette party that was one in name only, because Manuel and I weren’t getting married but had recently decided to fake a wedding, among other reasons, to stop talking about weddings. Manuel didn’t want to get married and I did; I needed to experience its significance, to dress up in the gesture; besides, I enjoyed being the adversary of those couples, so proud of their three children, who hadn’t crossed the door of a church or a courtroom: I would show them my fake wedding pictures. What do you think, Manuel, a few staged photos; we’ve never celebrated anything.

The opening sentences show a relationship that probably has little future, but also a narrator that is irreverent, willing to subvert convention. Unfortunately, the rest of the story did not live to the promise of the beginning. It slid into a slow commonplace of diners that smelled worse as his mouth got worse. Not that any of it was badly written, but the story seemed to follow the same trajectory throughout. I must admit, too, that her descriptions of rotting seafood (seafood is not one of my favorites even when fresh) and rotting teeth did not sit well with me. Ultimately, I see her promise, but am looking for something that captures my attention.

The story that did capture my attention was from Wilmer Urrelo, All Your Questions Answered About the Fascinating World of Termites, by E.G. Humberto Sacristán (Trans: Annie McDermott). The story has three narrative threads running though it: the death and burial of the narrator’s mother; the life and habits of termites; a hostage in an unexplained location. Slowly as the story evolves the three threads come together and the narrator is shown to be a man with bad luck. He writes of his wife:

Then I thought about how fortunate I was to have married her and about the pleasure I felt when I forgave her (I’ll say it one last time: if I’m so good I don’t know what I’m doing here. A mistake? A stroke of bad luck?).

It is indicative of something larger that has gone wrong for the man and something unsaid about his wife. Why does he need to forgive her? Yet she has also saved him so he can’t be too upset. The bad luck he has had has made transformed him into a writer whose battles are only against the termites that have begun to eat his books shelves. But it is just another example of loss, something he cannot control, but is resigned to fight it while his wife leaves the house laughing. Urrelo shows a good command of the different threads and techniques to make this a richer story with unspoken stories still to be revealed. I would like to see a little more of Urrelo’s work.

I wasn’t impressed with Fabián Casas or Iris García Cuevas stories and I think this is as much a reflection on Herrera’s interests as mine. I don’t know Herrera’s work so I can’t comment if I like it or not. Still, 1 for 4 isn’t bad. I look forward to reading the other two collections when I have time.