Alumbramiento (Illumination) by Andrés Neuman – A Review

Alumbramiento (Illumination)
Andrés Neuman
Páginas de Espuma, 2006 pg 166

Andrés Neuman is a dedicated explorer of the short story form, both as a writer and an editor. Alumbramiento, one of his earlier collections, shows him as a mature writer working through different approaches to the short story form, in terms of theme and structure. Those explorations, can wander between the literary, as in the section devoted to literature, to the more familiar territory of relationships between people. In no matter which area he is writing the stories take on playfulness and a humanity that never treats characters as something frivolous, no matter how esoteric the story is.

The collection is divided into four parts: Otros Hombres (Other Men), which looks at men and their relationships; Minituras (Minitures), which is a series of short monologues; Lecturas (Readings), which is about reading and literature; and, as in all his collections, aphorisms about writing (I hesitate to call them rules, more thought pieces). Alumbramiento, the first story of the collection, is, perhaps, Neuman’s most stream of conscious story, narrating a man’s thoughts on the birth of his child. The title in Spanish means both  birth and illumination, and it sets the tone for Otros Hombres section, showing men who are in the process confronting a change. For the narrator of Alumbramiento the change is both scary and exciting, and in Neuman’s hands he stretches what might be a rather obvious idea, into an exploration of the narrator’s life, that is at once affectionate and insightful.

Where, Alumbramiento is a nervous joy, Una raya en la arena (A Line in the Sand) shows the break down of a couple through what seems so insignificant: the challenge to not cross a line drawn in the sand between a couple. How the man and the woman interpret the meaning and importance of the line shapes whether the line is a permanent, fixed barrier, or a metaphor for a troubled couple. The argument as the couple works through the meanings of the line is subtle. Did the woman even mean for the line in the sand to be a true line in the sand, a point of no return? All of these ideas weave through the story and show Neuman as strong observer of human interaction.

La belleza (The Beauty) is a representative story from the miniatures section. In these brief page long monologues the narrators describe something fundamental about themselves and the world around them. For the narrator of La belleza she is cursed with a beauty that the whole world recognizes and uses to appraise her with. She is not a thinking being, but an image of the ideal and when she speaks those around her are shocked that she has anything to say. In an Neuman touch, at night she dreams of a world full of ugliness. Of course that world cannot exist and when she awakes she finds herself completely alone. While there are familiar tropes about stereotyping beauty, Neuman adds to this with her solitary life, as if there is a beauty that is too much, too frightful.

Finally, in the Lecturas section, Neuman explores and plays with the idea of reading and the reader. Here he shows his great fascination not with narrative, but the idea of narrative, how readers construct and make their own narratives. It is the most humoristic section of the book, finding in a story like Queneau asltaba ancianas (Queneau  Robs Seniors) a celebration of Queneau, but also a chance to laugh at the trials of the robber who becomes less and less powerful, as if they style of the story robs him of his power. It is one of Neuman’s characteristic interests: writing in the border between fiction and the experience of reading that fiction. It is that interplay that is not only on display in the Lecturas section, but informs many of his stories and makes them unique.

Many of these stories are now available form Open Letter Press and any one reading this would do well to get a copy.