El matrimonio de los peces rojos (The Marriage of the Red Fish)
Paginas de Espuma, 2013, pg 120
Guadalupe Nettel’s collection of short stories explore the relationship between animals and humans. Over the course of five stories the animals become reflections of human behavior as they interact with her characters at the edge of their preoccupations. The animals are not actors in these stories, but a disappointment with what we had first projected on the animals. The sense of disappointment fills these otherwise bright stories. In the title story, the narrator is a woman whose marriage reflects the life of her Beta fish. Beta’s are notoriously difficult to take care of because of their violent tendencies with other fish, even other Betas. That reflection of the state of one’s marriage is not the most faltering and ends with a separation. She notes a question that is at once interesting, and irritating,
Nadie nos obligó a casarnos. Ninguna mano desconocida nos sacó de nuestro acuario familiar y nos metió en esta casa sin nuestro consentimiento.
No one forced us to get married. No unknown hand took us out of our aquarium and put us in this house without our consent.
No, they don’t. Unfortunately, despite Nettel’s skill as a writer, her prose is very good, these kind of conclusions to her stories bothered me for their obviousness. The story of the woman and her fish was well told, but didn’t offer any particular surprises and the ending was a little too pat. It is too bad because in her second story, Guerra en los Basureros (The War in the Garbage Cans) she starts out with the memories of a young girl who goes to live with her aunt and family. Her parents are divorcing so living with people who eat together and otherwise get along is too much for her. She prefers to stay with the servants in the kitchen, eating only after the family has gone to bed. Then she kills a cockroach one night. It is a mistake because that only makes more and more of them come. She tries everything to stop them, including eating them in a form of penance. Here, her skills as a writer are on display and the story of the orphan and the cockroaches has a resonance of sadness and regret missing in the other stories which lean more toward the style of the first. Still while the end of the first story felt pat, this one felt forced. I can’t help think that this collection suffers for its insistence on forcing the framing metaphor: humans and animals. Yes they are alike, but they’re also not. And in between something got lost. It is too bad, because I her stories always started with such promise. I know something of hers is coming in English soon (I can’t remember if it is this book or not). If it is a different work perhaps it will change my mind.