Short Stories From Andres Neuman, Fernando Iwasaki, Hipólito Navarro, Clara Obligado, Patricia Esteban Erlés

For your end of summer reading pleasure: short stories from Andres Neuman, Fernando Iwasaki, Hipólito Navarro, Clara Obligado, and Patricia Esteban Erlés. These are all in Spanish and unfortunately I doubt Google translate will help. All of these links are via the publisher Paginas de Espuma.

Fernando Iwasaki in  El País titled Emmanuelle Allen: http://www.elpais.com/articulo/revista/agosto/Emmanuelle/Allen/elpepirdv/20100814elpepirdv_6/Tes

Hipólito G. Navarro (El pez volador) in Público:. http://www.publico.es/culturas/331534/vuelta/dia

In Público by Clara Obligado: http://blogs.publico.es/libre-2010/2010/08/03/el-azar-por-clara-obligado/

In El País by Andres Neuman: http://www.elpais.com/articulo/revista/agosto/pequenas/perversiones/elpepucul/20100716elpepirdv_9/Tes

In Público by Patricia Esteban Erlés: http://www.publico.es/culturas/330839/your/name/relatos/verano

Spanish Short Stories – The Forgotten Greats and the New Voices

El Pais has an excellent article on short story writers from the 20th century and beyond, with special emphasis on the forgotten during the post war and the new young writers. If you are interested in short stories the article is a must. What is fascinating from my own reading and notes of the author is the interest in playing with reality. Despite the oft cited interest in Americans like Carver, there is a definite interest in authors like Poe, Borges and Cortazar.

One could spend a year reading all these books:

Para estar al corriente de los tiempos que se avecinan, Gemma Pellicer y Fernando Valls nos proponen Siglo XXI (Menoscuarto), subtitulado Los nuevos nombres del cuento español actual. Siguiendo la pauta de un libro anterior a cargo de F. Valls y J. A. Masoliver, Los cuentos que cuentan (1998) (con el que este reciente volumen dialoga), se recoge aquí también una breve reflexión sobre el género firmada por cada uno de los autores escogidos. Sin ánimo de entrar a debatir algunas de las afirmaciones vertidas en la presentación del volumen ni matizar el tono de regusto canonizante que preside esta gavilla de relatos, sí quiero apuntar un par de cuestiones. Al margen de la fecha de publicación de los relatos aquí reunidos (todos posteriores a 2000, en efecto), a menos que admitamos que el siglo XXI empezó en 1989, aproximadamente la mitad de estos “nuevos nombres” pertenece al último tramo del XX, no sólo por haber empezado a publicar a principios de los noventa sino por su específica filiación literaria; en este sentido, faltan autores incontestables. Por eso del subtítulo me sobra el “los” y cuestiono la pretendida novedad, aunque es cierto que la nómina de autores de trayectoria más breve y reciente está más equilibrada, destacando la justa y merecida presencia de escritoras como Berta Vias Mahou, Elvira Navarro, Berta Marsé o Cristina Grande.

Esta última publica Agua quieta (Vagamundos): 36 narraciones próximas a la intensidad y el lirismo de la prosa poética, que apuntan el latido cotidiano del presente al modo diarístico (una breve escapada a Escocia o la lectura sosegada de la vida de Chéjov según Natalia Ginsburg), o se desplazan en el tiempo evocando historias de familia y los juegos y paisajes de la niñez.

Al modo de novela de formación o aprendizaje podría leerse Conozco un atajo que te llevará al infierno (e.d.a. libros), del valenciano Pepe Cervera: dieciocho estampas que atraviesan la adolescencia, juventud y primera madurez de Andrés Tangen, de las cuales en Siglo XXI se recoge la penúltima, ‘Como un hombre que sobrevuela el mar’.

Una de las autoras-revelación incluida en Siglo XXI es Patricia Esteban Erlés, que publica su tercer libro de relatos, Azul oscuro (Páginas de Espuma), cuentos de un gran despliegue imaginativo en los que la realidad o la vida cotidiana queda alterada por la irrupción de un elemento extraño, de un acontecimiento tan inesperado como incomprensible o de un comportamiento ingobernable. Algunos textos alcanzan grados de condensación casi poéticos y por lo general ocultan más de lo que dicen, con finales abiertos, tan inquietantes como sugestivos, o un cierre sorpresivo en el mejor estilo de Poe. Destacaría el que da título al libro, ‘Azul ruso’ -donde encontramos a la nueva Circe Emma Zunz, que “fue convirtiendo en gatos a todos los hombres que cruzaron la puerta del viejo edificio con aires de teatro cerrado donde vivía”- y ‘La chica del UHF’ -protagonizado por Antonio Puñales, un “técnico en pompas fúnebres” que se desvive por crear amor y belleza allí donde dominan el horror o la avaricia.

Tin House Summer 2010 – A Quick Review

I picked up the summer issue of Tin House because, a. I was at writers conference and I felt bad for the person selling them, b. it had an interview with Etgar Keret, someone whose work I really like, and c. I got two issues for the price of one. The Keret didn’t disappoint, although, is probably not worth the price alone of the Tin House. Also included is an interview with David Shields, but it was quickly uninteresting to me as I find his stance tedious (you can read the article on line here). What was a welcome change was the quality of the fiction. I had never read a issue before and I was unsure about the quality of the work. Over all the whole magazine was quite good. There were several stories worth noting.

Snow White, Red Rose by Lydia Millet was a solid set of twisting revelations from a narrator who befriends two girls. The questions, naturally, is what is going to happen. She holds the suspense well, but as often happens when you are heading into criminality, the ending suffers because the crime is always so mater of fact is undoes all the excitement you had with the suspense.

The White Glove by Steven Millhauser reminded me of some of Cristina Fernandez Cubas short stories. Both deal with events that seem supernatural, or threatening, but are never quiet revealed to be as horrid as you might think. It is as if the author plays with the tension to let you imagination get away with you even as you are reading. A narrator tells of his enchantment with a girl in his class and her family. The family is perfect, yet she wears a mysterious white glove and he is uncertain why she seems so shy about it. Is it abuse? What could be happening?

The Wheelbarow from Sophie McManus’ story of a vet just back from a war zone showed great comfort with slang and in its economy made for a taught story rich with details. It was a good change to have to puzzle out some of the expressions; it invigorates the writing.

Christina Fernandez Cubas – Reinvigorating the Spanish Short Story

In this review
Mi hermana Elba (My Sister Elba)
Los altillos de Brumal (The Attics of Brumal)
from Todos los cuentos (All the Stories)
Tusquets, 2008

Christina Fernández Cubas is considered on of the most important Spanish short story writers since the end of the Franco era. Starting with her first book, My Sister Elba, published in 1980, she has been continually praised as important author by authors such as Enrique Villa-Matas (Spanish only) who recently said, “as everyone knows, her book My Sister Elba was decisive in the revitalization of the genre of the short story in Spain at the end of the 70s.” Her work is lauded for its inventiveness and the originality of her imagination, and a reading the relatively little she has published, bares out the praise. While it can be hard for an someone not familiar with the history of the Spanish short story to know if her impact was that great, her stories transcend any historical moment and are gems of story telling.

Cubas’ stories all fall within the genre of fantastic literature, yet in the same way that Poe, one of her favorites, is more than just spooky stories for Halloween, her works transcend genre. Often she focuses on the border lands between childhood and adulthood, creating a worlds were the impossible exists for children, and is unimaginable by adults. These dualities also intersect age and class, so that the modern, educated adult may look for rationality where there is none.

El reloj de Bagdad (The Clock from Baghdad) is probably the best example of this tension. In the story, the father of two young children brings home an antique clock one day. It is a beautiful clock with exquisite complications, yet the two old women who live in the house and have taken care of the family for years, don’t trust it. They think it is cursed. One won’t even go near it and leaves the house after years of service. The children, too, are scared of it. Yet the clock hasn’t done anything specific. The narrator, one of the now adult children, only can give us a sense of its immensity, as if that presence alone was enough to scare. When the family returns from a vacation the house is on fire and one of the few things they can save is the clock. The fire seems to confirm the curse. And when the father wants to sell it, the antique dealer refuses to take it back. Ultimately, the family moves out of town on the Day of San Juan, and the old women burn the clock in one of of the many pyres that mark the day.

The Clock from Baghdad has all the elements that mark her work. First, the story has an uncertain narrator who is always looking back into a past that is not only hazy, but a way of thinking that doesn’t exists for her anymore. Second, it is peopled with children who don’t understand the grown up world, and who make their own world, which creates a tension that is often mysterious, but can also be a possibility that is no longer possible to express. Her stories, however, do not rest on simple platitudes of the incorruptibility of children or their innate goodness. Cubas is too inventive to let her stories conclude so easily.

Mi hermana Elba, the title story of her first work, shows how she uses childhood as a distant place that has different powers, but can be as terrifying and cruel as the adult world. The narrator opens the story looking at an old note book and wondering how she wrote it. It appears as something unconnected to her. In its pages are one year of her life when when she attended at Catholic boarding school with her younger sister, Elba. It is a lonely experience at first, but then she meets an orphan from the neighboring village who lives in the school. Together they explore the off limits quarters where the nuns live. One day when a nun returns suddenly to her room, the girls hide in a corner where the nun should have seen them, but for some reason does not notice them. It is here that the orphan reveals the secret pockets throughout the school where one can hide in plain sight. They explore all of these together. Elba, though, is the best at them and often can go deep into the secret spots so that her voice sounds plaintive, lost. Then summer comes and when the orphan returns, she is no longer interested in the hiding spots and has changed her interest to boys. Elba continues with the hiding spots and the narrator often will hear her pleading for her even though she isn’t around. It is a haunting feeling and the story is at it strangest at these moments. Yet like the orphan, the narrator ages at and the next summer she is more interested in boys, finding her first boy friend amongst the kids who hang out on the beach. When a tragedy suddenly befalls Elba, the narrator is shocked to learn twenty years latter, that the only thing she could think to write in her diary is “this is the best day of my life.”

Mi hermana Elba mixes the fantastic with coming of age in away that is both haunting and disturbing. What could those spaces be? And more importantly, why is Elba disappearing into them so easily that she sounds lost? A fascicle read could make the spaces the lack of wonderment adults often have, but it is more interesting to ask, what if they existed, and latter you lost interest? Is an adulthood even in a world with such places that dulling that you would leave them to childhood? The narrator’s reaction to the tragedy, both in its callousness as a teen, and as an uncertain adult suggest even when they were at the school, Elba was lost already, as if she knew this was coming but didn’t understand it. The blending of the mysterious and coming of age makes this one of the best stories in the collection, and one that is sure to stay with someone after reading.

Los altillos de Brumal isn’t metaphysically fantastic, instead, it suggests a place that really could exist and would be terrifying. The narrator is the host of a radio show and asks people to send her samples of their homemade jam so she can put a book together. She receives and unmarked jar of a blackberry like jam and when she tastes it she is reminded of the village she lived in as a child. She can’t stop eating the jam and before she knows it she has eaten the whole jar. Inspired, she returns to the village even though her mother had said only pain comes from the village. Once there, everything seems familiar, but out of place. She meets the town priest who shows her where the jam is made in a small attic. He tells her that the woman who used to make it passed away and he sent her the jam because he wanted her to do it. What was at first a voyage into memory now becomes something dark. While her mother’s warnings were unspecific, the narrator leaves you with the impression that the village is some sort of feudal throw back, where the priest has complete power over everything. It hints at darker times in Spain’s past. The question remains, though, is the jam powerful in a Proustian sense, a magical sense, or does it even matter what has drawn her back? The genius of Cubas to give the reader just enough to puzzle with these mysteries and leave one debating if the realities of these stories are just another manner of living.

Christina Fernández Cubas’ work is taught, concise and yet mysterious. She uses the fantastic not only to intrigue, but to play with reality. These games that often seem to contain supernatural elements leave the reader wondering which reality really exists. It is the mark of her great skill that the search for explanation only leads to deeper mysteries that keep one returning to them. I still don’t know how she marked a transition in Spanish short stories, but her works definitely warrants a translation to English.

Note: You may also want to see my article on four untranslated Spanish short story writers which includes a section on Cubas.

Félix J Palma’s English Debut and New Short Story Collection

Last month Spanish novelist and short story writer Félix J Palma published a new book of short stories, The Smallest Show in the World (El menor espectáculo del mundo). In it he mixes the fantastic with the comic to explore “human relations, most of all those of love, are microcosms inhabited only by those who are living it” (relaciones humanas, sobre todo las amorosas, son microcosmos habitados únicamente por los protagonistas de la historia.  Revista de Letras Spanish only.) He treats the subject with humor and his use of the fantastic sounds interesting. In one story, a character doubles every time he has to make a decision (via Spanish only) . Instead of the Garden of Forking Paths, the character becomes the path, turning the Borges classic on its head. As Palma notes in an interview at Canal-l (Spanish only) many Spanish short story authors follow one of two paths, either those of Borges, Cortizar, and other Latin American authors who tended towards the fantastic, or those of Americans like Raymond Carver. He, by his own accounting, is in the first camp. While I’m not sure if he is one of Spain’s best short story writers as the Revista de Letras article says, I am sufficiently intrigued to get a copy of his book.

For those of you who can only read English, his successful novel The Map of Time will be coming out in English sometime this year. I don’t know much about it and from the description Publisher’s Weekly gave I’m not sure if I should be afraid or hope for something interesting. Given that it got a six figure deal, I’m a little leery.

From Publisher’s Weekly

Johanna Castillo at Atria won an auction for Felix J. Palma’sThe Map of Time via Thomas Colchie, who sold North American rights for six figures (in collaboration with Palma’s principal agent, Antonia Kerrigan, on behalf of Algaida in Spain). Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, Palma’s English-language debut features three intertwined plots, in which H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate incidents of time travel and save the lives of an aristocrat in love with a murdered prostitute from the past, a woman attempting to flee the strictures of society by searching for her lover somewhere in the future and Wells’s own wife, who may have become a pawn in a plot to murder him as well as Henry James and Bram Stoker. The book was just published in Spain.

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God by Etgar Keret – a Review

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be GodThe Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories
Etgar Keret
Toby Press, 200 pg

The Israeli author Etgar Keret’s short stories don’t describe reality as much as they render it suspect. They are seldom predictable and at his best he surprises the reader, not with a twist, the cheapest of devices, but a brief digression from the real into a longing whose desires can never quite be fulfilled.  At the same time he never looses sight of modern life with its quotidian fast food shops and dead end jobs, and illustrates it with a spare writing style that is short on introspection but whose reality is unfixed and open to question. The brevity and the unexpected never make his stories seem extreme. Instead, there is a naturalness to the incidents he describes, an almost jaded quality, as if that same tired response to mass produced culture that surrounds everyone, especially his characters, has so removed our ability to really see the extraordinary. It is the tension between the ordinary and the strange that make his stories intriguing and reflect a world that has become trapped in its seemingly orderly word.

The story that best illustrates the longing that never quite comes true is Hole in the Wall. A young guy, Uri, is told if he screams a wish into a hole in a wall where an ATM machine had been the wish would come true. He doesn’t believe it and there is a sense that wishes are pointless. Nevertheless, he wishes that an angel would keep him company. One does show up, but he turns out not to be much of a friend. The angel always disappears when Uri needs him, refuses to show his wings, and never wants to fly, afraid someone will see him. Finally, one day the angel and Uri are on the roof of his apartment and he has the impulse to push the angel of the edge of the building to see if he’ll fly. But he doesn’t and falls to his death. Uri notes, “he wasn’t even an angel, just a liar with wings.” The death of the angel upends not only the definition of an angel, it is the frustration of a cultural longing, and in his description of the angel as a different kind of humanity, he extends the cultural fatigue of loneliness in modern life to that of its salves, religion. Screaming for a wish in a hole where an ATM machine had been creates a sense of desperation where economic conditions have slipped and instead of having access to money, the real power to grant wishes, one has to scream for something that is never going to come. Extending the screams into Jewish tradition he a plays on the Wailing Wall, but instead of finding solace in a place of ancient religion, the modern with its disposable infrastructure is the best one can do. It makes for a desperate moment because Uri is left alone again and his searches have ended in futility, leaving him in the same world where the old cultural longings are just as disappointing as the modern commercial ones, and each as transient as the other.

Following the Hole in the Wall in style and theme is his short novella Kneller’s Happy Campers where he constructs and after life that is neither heaven nor hell, but just the same modern city the deceased used to inhabit. It might seem like a form of hell because all the inhabitants of the place are suicides, but if it is hell, it is only the hell of boredom and repetition that comes with a regular job and the ever present need to entertain oneself after, even if there isn’t much to do except to go to the same bars night after night and hope you’ll find someone to date. His vision of the modern hell that is everyday life is one where one feels dull, perhaps anxiety ridden, but nothing is too extreme and the battle for people is to find a way to navigate that. Unfortunately, for the characters in the the story it has lead to suicide. But suicide is not an escape, but a return to that search and the characters continue it, driving to some unknown destination trying to find what they had lost before they committed suicide. Eventually, they get to a strange place where miracles happen but only if they don’t have any meaning and a man called Kneller runs a camp ground where the Messiah King J is planing to perform a great miracle.  J is part Messiah and cult leader and the people follow him hopping for the next revelation. He lives in a great mansion with a pool, squash court, and a buffet pool side. It appears that hell has now become heaven, but again Keret flips the story and the heaven is not as it seems. As in Hole n the Wall, the longing is left unsatisfied and the mysteries wrapped in religion are never answered, but left as just another thing to buy, to engage with temporally. And Miracles, though existing, are nothing more than entertainments devoid of power.

Yet the longing and sometimes melancholy in the characters should not deter one from finding the humor in Keret’s work. He does not write like some of those Central European authors who are so weighed down by the past that even the happiest of times seems miserable. At their most fundamental the stories are funny and full of surprise. And in a story like Breaking the Bank the humor shifts from the black to sympathetic when a boy undermines his dad’s lesson and is unable to destroy the piggy bank that was supposed to teach him value. Keret keeps his humor at a sympathetic level, never satire, and so the stories, even when they go against the character’s longing, don’t make fun, but laugh at the attempts that failed, that could happen to any one.

Keret also writes stories that don’t have fantastical elements, yet these, too, exhibit anxiety and longing. Although, they are not as surprising, it strips the layers to get at his most fundamental elements of his stories. The Flying Santinis is simple enough: a boy wants to join a circus and with the encouragement of his father (this is still Keret after all) he asks the trapeze artist if he can join. He says sure, as long as you can touch your toes, which the boy tries to do, but manages to herniate his disk. The trapeze artist, overcome by the pain and the eagerness of the boy, tells him in the hospital, you could have bent your knees, I wouldn’t have said anything. It is a moment of tenderness, a realization that even when you try your hardest you may not get quite what you want—its just one of those things. Yet Keret is able to infuse a nostalgic longing in the story that deadness the disaster and turns it, along with the trapeze man’s tears it feels as if he almost made it and that was pretty close. Further reducing the pain, is the distance of the narrator, who reports the story like the boy, yet is an adult at the same time. It blurs the line between memory and the present and as in many of his stories, the narrator may no longer be a child, but those inconsistencies children see in the adult world, become a strange reality that adults are shocked by.

Illustrating this best is Shoes, one of several stories that use children and young people to show the way that Israelis look at issues like the Holocaust and the way the young, without a framework of understanding, can interpret what is around them. Shoes begins on Holocaust Memorial Day when a group of students are taken to the Museum of Volhynia Jewry where the narrator, an young boy who is excited by the honor of going to the museum and not its weighty meaning, listens to a Holocaust survivor tell the students that the Germans are evil and he will never forgive them and they still make their products from the bodies of Jews. It is a horrifying image, but the boys can’t grasp it. For them it is just part of a field trip. They can only discuss whether the man with his now frail body could have really strangled a camp guard. The boys are unable to see him as a younger man who might have done that, although, the reader may also question,too, if a weekend prisoner would really have the strength to strangle. A few weeks latter the boy is given a pair of shoes from Germany and he thinks about what the old man has said and he feels guilty. He imagines they are made from his grandfather who had died in the Holocaust. But then he goes to a soccer game and little by little he forgets. After the game, though, he remembers and for a moment feels bad, but then the shoes feel good and he thinks his grandfather must be pleased, even talking to the shoes as if they could hear. It is a risky moment that works because Keret is able to not make fun of the Holocaust, but suggest the solemn honor paid to it can be confusing and in turn make it lose its meaning. How do children interpret the meaning of it when overlaid is the fun of going to the museum? One has the sense that though the Holocaust is in no way similar to commercial culture, the repetition leads to a fatigue that inures one to its power. It is picks up on the feeling in Keret’s other stories. Yet it isn’t dark story, but one where the boy attempts to make his own meaning and, again, this is what often happens with the characters in his stories. The slight readjustment of reality doesn’t disparage the larger world, but allows the character to find a way of integrating parts of it within himself.

The stories of Etgar Keret are both funny and melancholic, a way of readjusting modern reality and turning its loggings upside down. In doing that Keret doesn’t wallow in despair, but constructs something new, something that lets one find a new way to experience modern commercial culture. The ability to that makes his stories a great pleasure to read and think about.

New Daniel Sada Short Story at Letras Libres – With Translation

Letras Libres has a new short story form the Mexican author Daniel Sada. Since not too much of his work is available in English (and as an exercise) I have translated the first paragraph, including some of his stylistic peculiarities. I like his style, although, it can be difficult to read in Spanish: not for the novice. It is a Borges-like story with its focus of books, something a little different than the last story that was in Letras Libres.

With something of a boast he arrived and put the book on the table: Here you have what you were looking so hard for: the phrase was said at full volume so that it resonated through the whole restaurant, he saw it immediately, a damaged edition, but complete, the only one in Spanish. Gastón, who was seated at the cabinet, put on his glasses and yes: That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, by Carlo Emilio Gadda, the Italian Joyce that Italo Calvino cites en his Six Suggestions for the Coming Melenium, as an example of the supreme multiplicity. Like that the surprise. Even more when Atilio Mateo described to him the grueling pilgrimage that he made through a score of antiquarian bookstores. Dangerous streets at all hours, stinking, and scattered through the most horrible and snorting parts of the city. There were five days of searching. Many lazy people sent him north. Strange people well informed. Fantastic circumstances, or not? And speaking of Atilio Mateo: what a show of friendship! During five days he stopped going to his job as a bureaucrat so he could dedicate himself to a search for a book that is difficult to find. In the first four days he worked 12 hours (from 9 to 9) in his inquires, but it was the beginning of the fifth when he ran into a rarity named Bookland and found it finally and: You don’t have another copy? I could take two or three copies at one time, even if you have more I could buy more. But the book seller, raising his eyebrows, told him:  Sorry, I only have this one. In sum: too much time for the find. The Atilio Mateos advantage was that both his immediate boss and his boss’s boss let him be absent for what ever reason he fancied. If someone from higher up asked them about the fugitive both of them would say that he was doing an investigation, more or less. In addition, both admired the intellectual: an unappreciated genius and, since then, deserving of constant caresses. Yes. An enviable job for a profound being.

Con algo de jactancia llegó y puso el libro sobre la mesa: Aquí tienes lo que tanto andas buscando: la frase fue dicha a todo pulmón para que resonara a lo ancho del restaurante y, lo visto al instante, una edición estropeada, pero completa, la única en español. Gastón, que estaba sentado en el gabinete, se colocó sus gafas y sí: El zafarrancho aquel de via Merulana, de Carlo Emilio Gadda, el Joyce italiano que cita Italo Calvino en sus Seis propuestas para el próximo milenio, como ejemplo supremo de multiplicidad. Así la sorpresa. Más aún cuando Atilio Mateo le describió la extenuante peregrinación que hizo por una veintena de librerías de viejo. Calles peligrosas a toda hora, malolientes, y desperdigadas por los rumbos más horripilantes y bufos de la ciudad. Fueron cinco días de búsqueda. Mucha gente vaga le dio nortes. Gente fachosa bien informada. Circunstancia fantástica, ¿o no? Y hablando de Atilio Mateo: ¡qué muestra de amistad! Durante cinco días dejó de ir a su trabajo de burócrata para dedicarse a la busca de un libro difícil de hallar. En los primeros cuatro días empleó doce horas (de las nueve a las nueve) en su indagatoria, pero fue al comienzo del quinto cuando se topó con una rareza llamada Librolandia y halló por fin aquello y: ¿No habrá otro ejemplar?, de una vez me puedo llevar dos o tres, incluso si tiene más se los compro. Pero el librero, alzando las cejas, le dijo: Lo siento, sólo tengo éste. Total: demasiado tiempo para el hallazgo. La ventaja de Atilio Mateo era que tanto su jefe inmediato como su jefe superior le permitían ausentarse por la razón que se antoje. Si alguien de más arriba les preguntaba por el fugitivo, tanto uno como el otro decían que andaba haciendo una investigación, o más o menos. Además, ambos admiraban al intelectual: un genio desperdiciado y, desde luego, merecedor de constantes apapachos. Sí. Un trabajo envidiable para un ente profundo.

Perhaps Not Borges – Alex Epstein and Israeli Flash Fiction

PEN and the Jewish Daily Forward have an interview and excerpts from the Israeli writer Alex Epstein’s new book of flash fictions. They are sometimes metaphysical, sometimes meta-fiction, often cryptic, but play with simple images and frozen moments to capture the essence of a thought, an idea, or a impression.  I didn’t like them all, but several, especially those at the forward (The Name of the Moon and Blue Has No south) used brief images to create a larger picture of really is happening in the unwritten story, which is the mark of a good sudden fiction. I would like to give the book a look, but I’m afraid I would find his work a bit repetitive.

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the Borges moniker attached to any author who writes about books and doubles. Enough, already, and lets just say writing about book is just one of those things writers do, in part, because that is what they know so well. I love Borges (well until the Aleph or so, after that he starts to repeat himself) but I also want to know there is something else out there too.

A Short Story from Dagoberto Gilb In the New Yorker

It has been a while since I’ve heard anything from Daboberto Gilb. I can remember liking his collection of short stories The Magic of Blood, but not his novel the Last Know Residence of Mickey Acuna. It is amazing how one bad book can completely turn you off to other books by a writer. He has a new story in the New Yorker. It is OK, very LA of a certain time, especially all his Dodger references. However, I wasn’t wowed by it, but it did have a certain charm. His style was a bit tedious, but at least, it didn’t have an epiphany for an ending.

Dagoberto Gilb: “Uncle Rock” : The New Yorker.

It is Short Story Month

I didn’t know there was such a thing, but maybe I should get out more. The dedicated and excellent Emerging Writers Network has a few notes on it and is a site to watch if you want to celebrate it.

The question is if there is a poetry month, a short story month, and one would hope one day a novel month, what do we do with the rest of the year? Perhaps an essay month, play month, autobiography month, and if I could think up more genres we could fill up a whole year.

Interview with Etgar Keret at Words Without Borders

Words Without Borders has an interesting interview with the short story writer Etgar Keret about his process and what he thinks of creative writing programs and craft. I am a big fan of his stories and he has been one my most interesting finds in the world of short stories over the last year or two along with Amanda Michalopoulou and Hipólito Navarro. Because his works deviate from the more American tradition of epiphany and craft, I find his work quite refreshing. His take on craft, something I was taught in my earliest creative writing classes and still seems to haunt me like some tedious specter, was interesting. 

DH: Do you think there is an essential difference between what people think a good story is in contemporary American literature and in other parts of the world? I mean, do you see a difference between what is considered a good story here and, say, in Israel?

EK: I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but what I can say about the US is that there are many readers and creative writing professors who are into the tradition of the “well written story,” which is something I completely dislike because it focuses on the craft machine. I tell my students that they should focus on writing “the badly written” good story. There is something paralyzing if you are thinking all the time about the form; it can stop you from focusing on the true passion and emotion. Here I can see that some people could characterize my stories as “shaggy dog stories” because they say, “OK, this is about a guy who went to a bar, etc., but this is not literature” because I don’t write the typical New Yorker story. I think this is very American because it goes with the Protestant work ethic: when you read a story you should see that someone worked very hard on it. But when I write something I want to hide my effort. I want people to feel that I am speaking to them. If it took me two months to write it I want it to look as if I didn’t make any effort. This is something that clashes with the American tradition. If you compare Bob Dylan singing a song with someone from American Idol, the latter sings better, he has a better voice. But the guy from American Idol is thinking about “singing well,” while Bob Dylan is thinking about the song. So the American kind of “well written” story is about creating an American Idol kind of story.

DH: I believe in that, and it makes sense, given the fact that your stories are not premeditated, but they start based on sound or rhythm. Now, you are a writer that in this country we read in translation, so there is problem with that.

EK: The problem is that English is 30/% longer than Hebrew. In Hebrew you can really construct very short sentences. In know this because I work with two very, very creative translators. And many times I don’t want them to be loyal to the text, but to the meter. For example, I have a story that begins with a series of compliments about a guy; but when my translator translated the story, it didn’t work because she wanted to translate the word, but the rhythm didn’t work. So, I told her, “Forget about the word! It should be ta-ta-ta.”

The Spanish Short Story – A Quick Overview at El Pais

El Pais has a story about the dynamism in the Spanish short story of the last 30 years and naturally it is brief. It mentions some of the authors, blogs and presses I have mentioned in these pages over the last few months. I don’t have time to translate anything from it, but you can always use Google translate or read my thoughts on Hipólito Navarro or Fernando Iwasaki.

Para Valls, su nueva antología certifica un hecho insólito hasta ahora: “La continuidad desde los años setenta de un género que en el panorama español ha sido guadianesco”. Ello pese a la calidad de figuras como Ignacio Aldecoa, Juan Eduardo Zúñiga o Medardo Fraile. Para Eloy Tizón, por su parte, la gran muestra de la vitalidad del género es, en lo literario, el hecho de que estos dos últimos sigan activos a la vez que los 35 nuevos autores antologados por Valls: de Carlos Castán, de 47 años, a Matías Candeira, de 26, pasando por Hipólito G. Navarro, Pilar Adón, Ricardo Menéndez Salmón o Elvira Navarro.

“Están a la altura de los autores latinoamericanos de cuentos de su generación. Eso es algo que podemos decir pocas veces”, afirma Fernando Valls de unos autores cuya “melodía de época”, dentro de una gran variedad de temas, sería su pertenencia a “la tradición del realismo” y una “asimilación no mimética de las vanguardias”. Más que boom del cuento, apunta Casamayor, lo que hay es “un crecimiento sostenido”. Un crecimiento al que han contribuido tanto las ediciones de cuentos completos de grandes clásicos por parte de Alfaguara, Lumen, Anagrama o Alba como los minilibros con uno o dos textos lanzados por Alfabia, Gadir o Alpha Decay.

The Flying Fish (El pez volador) by Hipólito G. Navarro – A Review of the Spanish Short Story

EL PEZ VOLADOR
Hipólito G. Navarro
PAGINAS DE ESPUMA, 2008
Occasionally when you begin a short story collection it is quickly apparent that you are reading something masterful where each story shows great attention to structure, language and narrative. That might be enough to make a good collection, but Hipólito G. Navarro’s El pez volador goes beyond the well written and gives one a collection where every story is written in a different style so that his stories keep evolving and suggesting new ways to construct a story. His stories, if one has to categorize them, move from the somewhat realistic interior monologue to meta fiction to more stream of consciousness, although, each of those terms only serves to constrain his work. And little seems to constrain his work which is always surprising, whether it is a twist at the end of a story, a sudden shift in perspective, or his ever present sense of humor, the stories reveal Navarro as a master and one of important writers in the revitalization of the Spanish short story.

Brevity, Darkness, Humor

For Navarro, story telling is a two fold act: telling a story, and telling the story of the story.

El pez volador from Páginas de Espuma (unavailable in English) is a collection of Navarro’s stories published over the last 15 – 20 years. It is hard to know what order they were published in, which might give a sense of his development, but there is a sense of progression, from more familiar story telling to the more meta. Yet that gives the impression that everything he writes about is self referential and refers only to story telling, which is far from the case. For example, Las notas vicrias (The Vicar’s Grades) two boys are given an old piano from a move theater. They spend all their time playing it even though it is missing a few keys. They struggle to learn how to play, to master the music of the Beatles and the Blues, often ignoring their homework, which gets them in trouble. After a few years when they have become good musicians, a stranger moves to the outskirts of town where one of the boy’s father had sold him a house in his orchard. The man is solitary and there are whispers around town about the man who they call the vicar, but the narrator, 30 years latter, doesn’t understand why they used that word, which suggests he was celibate. The narrator knows he lived alone, so he finds the gossip confusing. One day his friend’s father has the piano tuned. When the boys go to play it they learn, to their horror, that what they had learned to play sounds horrible on the newly tuned piano. It isn’t music any more, and they give up, never to play it again. On top of the piano is a card from the tuner: it is the man who has moved to the orchard. Years latter he remembers that the home in the orchard burned down and the piano tuner died. No one cared much but there was talk that the fire was arson and the story ends as the narrator says,

…Rafa y yo, sabemos positivamente que sí que fue provocado.

…Rafa and I, we know that it was arson.

Many of the common elements of Navarro’s stories are here. First there is the humor, a kind of humor based in inexperience or naiveté. His stories are not cruel, and bitter satire is not one of his methods. Following the humor, is a kind of unsettling of dreams, not so much a shattering, although the boys certainly have their dreams shattered, but a comic undoing of what a first seemed so obvious—the piano is in tune. Yet that isn’t to say there isn’t darkness in his work. The conclusion suggests something extremely dark, a violence and revenge that is quite passionate. However, that violence is off page, something only hinted at and softened by the multiplicities of interpretations of the story. The multiplicity of possibilities and the disparate elements that make up the motivations of the story are another trademark of his work. Navarro, leaves as much unsaid as possible. For him, it as if the shorter the better. Las notas nicrias is slightly more than four pages, yet in that brevity he is able to be both funny and dark, starting with a coming of age story that ends in revenge and suggestions of abuse.

The stories Las frutas mas dulces (The Sweetest Fruit) and La cabeza nevada (The Snowy Head) are similar in style, and the power in these stories is how he reveals what is actually happening. In La cabeza neveda it is only until the last moment does a shift in understanding in who the narrator is does the story finally describe reveal itself. It isn’t so much that the story makes no sense until then, rather he lets you make sense of the story, then says what I just told you is true, but you made an assumption where you shouldn’t have. In Las frutas mas dulces he goes again into the dark. In a scant three pages he describes a young girl who gets revenge on her uncle by having sex with a boy who comes into his melon fields to violate the melons. While the girl has her revenge,  the question what kind of revenge has she gotten and with whom? Again, Navarro leaves one with more question than he answers.

Playing With Stories

Moving into the more meta or experimental, the story El tren para Irún, por favor? (The Train for Irun, Please?) is told with only questions. Every sentence is a question and it leaves many open ended thoughts. Yet he has structured it so that many of the questions are implicitly answered by the following question. It is an effective technique, although, I found myself a little tired of it part of the way through and then warmed to it again as the life of the narrator filled out more and more. El tren is probably the most autobiographical piece, too. In his interviews he has mentioned his father who owned a bar in a village in southern Spain and who eventually died of alcoholism. In this story, a son is returning to a village after his father has died. He hasn’t seen him for years and is full of questions about what he will find. Will he ever get to know his father, understand what it was like to be an immigrant in Germany in the early 70’s. From these questions, though, the troubled father emerges. Despite the unsettling number of questions, El tren para Irún, por favor? is probably the story that is the closest in theme to modern American short stories: family dysfunction.

In A buen entendor (Dieciocho cuentos muy pequeños redactados ipsofácticamente) (A Good Understander — 18 very small stories edited ipso factly) Navarro dispenses with even the semblance of traditional story telling and gives the reader a series of short pieces with titles that seem to edit themselves, as if there were two voices talking. Each piece seems unconnected with the next, but as the story comes to an end they begin to refine themselves and the story that contains the little stories finally takes shape. The writing is some of his most playful and meta at the same time. For example, he opens the story with this piece that sets the action, but also makes a little joke with the repetition of the title in the first phrase.

I came about the anouncment
—I came about the announcement.
—Alright! You already told everyone about it.

Listen, this thing about fucking interests me
—Listen, this thing about fucking interest me.
—Alright! You already told everyone about it.

Yo venía por lo del anuncio
—Yo venía por lo del anuncio.
—Ya!, eso sel lo dirás todas.

Hombre, eso de follar me interesa
—Hombre, eso de follar me interesa.
—Ya, eso se lo dirás a todas.

Later, after several short bits, the phrase is repeated, but in a longer, more contextual frame:

I Came About the Anouncement
—I came about the announcement, he told her.
—Don’t fuck with me, she answered surprised (and no wonder).
—Listen, this thing about fucking interests me, came out suddenly.
—Alright, you already told everyone about it, replied the woman, inevitably.

Yo venía por lo del anuncio
—Yo venía por lo del anuncio — le dijo.
—No me jodas — contstó ella asmobrada (y no era para menos).
—Hombre, es que eso de follar me interesa -soltó el de pronto.
—Ya, eso se le dirás a todas —replicó la chica, inevitablemente.

Each of these parts slowly builds a story and and expands the story. Ultimately, in the last bit he puts all the pieces together and each of them is a different way of looking at the character and his way of thinking. At the same time it is a way of looking at how a story is constructed in pieces, as if the characters who are living the story are writing it too.

Navarro’s playfulness extends to the title story, too. In Sucedáneo: pez volador (relato en varios tiempos e higienes) (Substitute: Flying Fish — A Story in Various Tempos and Hygienes) Navarro again plays with structure. This time he breaks ups the story into numbered sections that are thematically grouped by the numbering. He then breaks up all the story into little sections that are imagistic and leave the reader, as he does in so many of his stories, wondering how the story will come together. In Pez volador another one his common elements appears: the natural world. Navarro, a former biology student, put vivid descriptions of the natural world in his works. In this story the main character keeps his bath tub as a kind of stagnate pond filled with worms, fish, and other creatures. It is not only a pond for observing, but one for bathing in and the protagonist spends his time sitting in the bath letting the creature crawling over him. Naturally, that is something one would not want to let others know and he keeps the shameful secret. The contrast of the secret with the intertwining stories creates a tension that, as in many of the stories, the characters are isolated, in a world of their own making. The resolution of the story, brining the natural into the larger world, the character out his isolation, and tying all the threads of the story together, again creates a story whose resolution is not only the end of the story, but a resolution of that one particular exploration of story telling. For Navarro, story telling is a two fold act: telling a story, and telling the story of the story.

Navarro is considered one of the preeminent short story writers of the last 30 years. His works, especially El aburimiento, Lester (The boredom, Lester), have been touchstones for the revitalization of the Spanish short story since Spain emerged from the dictatorship of Franco. With his power as a story teller and stylist his stories are a continuation of the legacy of of the Spanish language short story by such notables as Julio Cortazar. Hopefully, one day more of his work will be available in English.

What’s In English?

So far there isn’t too much English from Navarro. This is a shame and hopefully more will become available. Unfortunately, he has two strikes against him: American’s don’t read a lot of works in translation; and short story collections tend not to be published. Mix the to together and we may be waiting for some time There are a few works out there for the diligent and I would recommend reading his stories if you can. The NH Hotel chain published a collection of stories called, Bedside stories 6, which contains a couple of stories. I have yet to see a copy anywhere on the Intenent, so good luck finding it. In the collection Been There, Read That! Stories for the Armchair Traveller from The University of Victoria in New Zeeland he has one story. The book is readily available through sites like Abe Books. And the author has said that his translator Nicola Gilmour is working on a story for Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction, one can only hope it will come out in 2011. If it does come out, it will be the easiest way for and American to read one of his stories.

Occasionally when you begin a short story collection it is quickly apparent that you are reading something masterful where each story shows great attention to structure, language and narrative. That might be enough to make a good collection, but Hipólito G. Navarro’s El pez volador goes beyond the well written and gives one a collection where every story is written in a different style so that his stories keep evolving and suggesting new ways to construct a story. His stories, if one has to categorize them, move from the somewhat realistic interior monologue to meta fiction to more stream of consciousness, although, each of those terms only serves to constrain his work. And little seems to constrain his work which is always surprising, whether it is a twist at the end of a story, a sudden shift in perspective, or his ever present sense of humor, the stories reveal Navarro as a master and one of important writers in the revitalization of the Spanish short story.

El pez volador from Páginas de Espuma (unavailable in English) is a collection of Navarro’s stories published over the last 15 – 20 years. It is hard to know what order they were published in, which might give a sense of his development, but there is a sense of progression, from more familiar story telling to the more meta. Yet that gives the impression that everything he writes about is self referential and refers only to story telling, which is far from the case. For example, Las Notas Vicrias (The Vicar’s Grades) two boys are given an old piano from a move theater. They spend all their time playing it even though it is missing a few keys. They struggle to learn how to play, to master the music of the Beatles and the Blues, often ignoring their homework, which gets them in trouble. After a few years when they have become good musicians, a stranger moves to the outskirts of town where one of the boy’s father had sold him a house in his orchard. The man is solitary and there are whispers around town about the man who they call the vicar, but the narrator, 30 years latter, doesn’t understand why they used that word, which is similar to priest and suggests he was celibate. The narrator knows he lived alone, so he finds the gossip confusing. One day his friend’s father has the piano tuned. When the boys go to play it they learn, to their horror, that what they had learned to play sounds horrible on the newly tuned piano. It isn’t music any more, and they give up, never to play it again. On top of the piano is a card from the tuner, who is the man who has moved to the orchard. Years latter he remembers that the home in the orchard burned down and the piano tuner died. No one cared much but there was talk that the fire was arson and the story ends as the narrator says,

…Rafa y yo, sabemos positivamente que sí que fue provocado.

…Rafa and I, we know that it was arson.

Many of the common elements of Navarro’s stories are here. First there is the humor, a kind of humor based in inexperience or naiveté. His stories are not cruel and bitter satire is not one of his methods. Following the humor, is a kind of unsettling of dreams, not so much a shattering, although the boys certainly have their dreams shattered, but a comic undoing of what a first seemed so obvious—the piano is playing correctly. Yet that isn’t to say there isn’t darkness in his work. The conclusion suggests something extremely dark, a violence and revenge that is quite passionate. However, that violence is off page, something only hinted at and softened by the multiplicities of interpretations of the story. The multiplicity of possibilities and the disparate elements that make up the motivations of the story are another trademark of his work. Navarro, is a master of leaving as much unsaid as possible. For him, it as if the shorter the better. Las Notas Vicrias is slightly more than four pages, yet in that brevity he is able to be both funny and dark, starting with a coming of age story that ends in revenge and suggestions of abuse.

The stories Las frutas mas dulces (The Sweetest Fruit) and La cabeza nevada (The Snowy Head) are similar in style, and the power in these stories is how he reveals what is actually happening. In La cabeza neveda it is only until the last moment does a shift in understanding in who the narrator is does the story finally describe reveal itself. It isn’t so much that the story makes no sense until then, rather he lets you make sense of the story, then says what I just told you is true, but you made an assumption where you shouldn’t have. In Las frutas mas dulces he find goes again into the dark. In a scant three pages he describes a young girl who gets revenge on her uncle by having sex with a boy who comes into his melon fields to violate the melons. While the girl has her revenge,  the question what kind of revenge has she gotten and with whom? Again, Navarro sets leaves one with more question than he answers.

Moving into the more meta or experimental, the story El tren para Irún, por favor? is told with only questions. Every sentence is a question and it leaves many open ended thoughts. Yet he has structured it so that many of the questions are implicitly answered by the following question. It is an effective technique, although, I found myself a little tired of it part of the way through and then warmed to it again as the life of the narrator filled out more and more. El tren is probably the most autobiographical piece, too. In his interviews he has mentioned his father who owned a bar in a village in southern Spain and who eventually died of alcoholism. In this story, a son is returning to a village after his father has died. He hasn’t seen him for years and is full of questions about what he will find. Will he ever get to know his father, understand what it was like to be an immigrant in Germany in the early 70’s. From these questions, though, the troubled father emerges. Despite the unsettling number of questions, El tren para Irún, por favor? is probably the story that is the closest to modern American short stories: family dysfunction.

In A buen entendor (Dieciocho cuentos muy pequeños redactados ipsofácticamente) (A Good Understander — 18 very small stories edited ipso factly) Navarro dispenses with even the semblance of traditional story telling and gives the reader a series of short pieces with titles that seem to edit themselves, as if there were two voices talking. Each piece seems unconnected with the next, but as the story comes to an end they begin to refine themselves and the story that contains the little stories finally takes shape. The writing is some of his most playful and meta at the same time. For example, he opens the story with this piece that sets the action, but also makes a little joke with the repetition of the title in the first phrase.

I came about the announcement
—I came about the announcement.
—Alright! You already told everyone about it.
Listen, this thing about fucking interests me
—Listen, this thing about fucking interest me.
—Alright! You already told everyone about it.

Yo venía por lo del anuncio
—Yo venía por lo del anuncio.
—Ya!, eso sel lo dirás todas.
Hombre, eso de follar me interesa
—Hombre, eso de follar me interesa.
—Ya, eso se lo dirás a todas.

Later, after several short bits, the phrase is repeated, but in a longer, more contextual frame:

I Came About the Announcement
—I came about the announcement, he told her.
—Don’t fuck with me, she answered surprised (and no wonder).
—Listen, this thing about fucking interests me, came out suddenly.
—Alright, you already told everyone about it, replied the woman, inevitably.

Yo venía por lo del anuncio

—Yo venía por lo del anuncio — le dijo.

—No me jodas — contstó ella asmobrada (y no era para menos).

—Hombre, es que eso de follar me interesa -soltó el de pronto.

—Ya, eso se le dirás a todas —replicó la chica, inevitablemente.

Each of these parts slowly builds a story and and expands the story. Ultimately, in the last bit he puts all the pieces together and each of them is a different way of looking at the character and his way of thinking. At the same time it is a way of looking at how a story is constructed in pieces.

Celebrating the Small Press: Spain’s Páginas de Espuma

Recently I read two books from the publisher Páginas de Espuma, a Spanish press devoted to the art of the short story. Both España, a parte de mi estos premios (Fernandow Iwasaki), and El pez volador (Hipólito G. Navarro) are very good and are part of the resurgence of the Spahish short story. Páginas de Espuma has published many of the writers that are part of the resurgence and fills an important role in celebrating an art that is often held in less esteem than the novel. But the catalog doesn’t stop at modern Spanish writers, but includes thematic collections and republications of older writers. Recently they published an edition of Poe’s stories with an introduction for each story written by a different author. With El pez volador they have introduced a new series, Vivir del Cuento (Living with stories) that I hope they continue with. The books is divided into three parts: a long overview of the work of the author; a representative sample of the author’s stories; a long interview with the author. It is a great way to get an introduction to an author’s work, especially if you are not familiar with his or her milieu. Hopefully, next time I get to Spain I can pick up a few more books of theirs.

Juan Rulfo Reading His Stories Luvina And Tell Them Not to Kill Me

Archivosonoro.org has two recordings of Juan Rulfo reading his two short stories, Luvina and Diles que no me maten (Tell Them Not to Kill Me). The way he reads them really gives a different color to the stories than I originally envisioned. Luvina is my favorite Rulfo story and it is great to hear him read it. The recordings are a little scratchy, but certainly listenable.

Celebrating the Indepedent Book Store – Madrid’s Short Story Only Shop

Some say that Spain has been enjoying a renaissance of the short story. You can see part of that in Madrid’s Tres Rosas Amarillas (Three Yellow Roses) which only carries short stories. It isn’t a big shop, but it looks interesting. It makes me almost wish I was going to Madrid this year. For those inclined, you can find a short story by Hipólito G. Navarro written for the shop (pdf). I haven’t read it yet. His page of recommended short stories is an interesting mix of Spanish and international.

Review of New Horacio Castellanos Moya Book at El Pais

El Pais gave a brief review of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s latest book Con la congoja de la pasada tormenta. It is a good review, if brief.

Even though he has not put the stories together with this purpose, the 22 stories in Con la congoja de la pasada tormenta (With the Grief of the Tormented Past), by the Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moya (Tegucigalpa, 1957), could serve one who does not know the rest of his books as an introduction to characters and themes that people them. Here one meets soldiers and journalists, professors and waiters, photographers and whores, revolutionaries and ex-prisoners, in addition to the endless supporting characters that with a  mere stroke acquire an immediate life (in this Castelanos is Cervantesque). As for the themes, over all of them is one: love, but not hevenly but the other urgent love that is the passion to posses, already seducing, cheating or believing cheated, paying or believing bought. In fact, some stories would fit well in a magazine with naked bodies if it were not for the literary quality, that style of sensual microsurgeon, that is as torrid as the subject mater. Also, because in the stories appear some complicated characters, insecure and anxious men, enfeebled by the testosterone that eroticises one with fantasies about what the rest do in their bed. Likewise alcohol occupies a place of honor – whiskey and beer most of all -, the public places where people drink and the alcoholics in general. And finally, the last of the short list is war, that conditions everything, manipulates and overturns so that the characters walk through the path of exile or brutalization. These three themes, nerveless, treat with unequal fortune and provoke disparate stories, something normal to keep in mind is the stories were written over 20 years. You can recognize two of stories, ‘Variaciones sobre el asesinato de Francisco Olmedo’ and ‘Con la congoja de la pasada tormenta’, that are really short novels. The first relates a trip into the past of a man who looks for the truth about the death of his friend in a gang, or that is what he believes, and fabricates the search with success until it leaves the reader convinced of all his uncertainties. The second uses for its title a quote from Don Quixote when the he found himself at the sale of prostitutes, drinkers and squabbles. Here the narrator is a waiter that becomes involved in a nightmaire at the hands of snobs of all types, and is also about the investigation of a murder. Both stories are near perfect and show that Castellanos dominates that rythm that is not easy to control.

Aunque él no los haya reunido con este propósito, los 22 cuentos de Con la congoja de la pasada tormenta, del escritor salvadoreño Horacio Castellanos Moya (Tegucigalpa, 1957), podrían servir a quien no conociera el resto de su obra literaria como introducción a los personajes y los asuntos que la pueblan. Aquí se encuentran militares y periodistas, profesores y camareros, fotógrafos y putas, revolucionarios y ex reclusos, además de un sinfín de secundarios que con un simple trazo adquieren vida inmediata (en esto Castellanos es cervantino). En cuanto a los asuntos, son sobre todo uno: el amor, pero no el celeste sino ese otro amor urgente que es la pasión por poseer, ya sea seduciendo, engañando o creyendo engañar, pagando o creyendo comprar. De hecho, algunos relatos encajarían bien en una revista con cuerpos desnudos si no fuera porque aquí la calidad literaria, ese estilo de microcirujano sensual, es tan tórrida como el contenido. Y también porque en ellos aparecen algunos personajes complejos, hombres inseguros y ansiosos, enfebrecidos por la testosterona que se erotizan con fantasías sobre lo que hacen los demás en la cama. Asimismo ocupan un lugar de honor el alcohol -sobre todo la cerveza y el whisky-, los lugares públicos en donde se consume y los dipsómanos en general. Y, por fin, el último de la terna es la guerra, que todo lo condiciona, lo manipula y lo trastoca para que los personajes caminen por la senda del exilio o del embrutecimiento. Los tres asuntos, sin embargo, se tratan con fortuna desigual y dan lugar a cuentos dispares, algo normal teniendo en cuenta que se trata de relatos escritos a lo largo de 20 años. Hay que destacar dos de las historias, ‘Variaciones sobre el asesinato de Francisco Olmedo’ y ‘Con la congoja de la pasada tormenta’, que en realidad son novelas cortas. La primera relata el viaje al pasado de un hombre que busca la verdad sobre la muerte de su amigo de pandilla, o eso cree, y que fabula esa búsqueda con éxito hasta dejar al lector convencido de todas sus incertidumbres. La segunda lleva por título una cita tomada del Quijote, cuando el caballero se encuentra en la venta, de nuevo lugar de putas, bebedores y trifulcas. Aquí el narrador es un camarero que se ve involucrado en una pesadilla a manos de señoritos de todos los pelajes, también a propósito de la investigación de una muerte. Ambos relatos rozan la perfección y vienen a demostrar que Castellanos domina ese ritmo nada fácil que exige el medio fondo.

Con la congoja de la pasada tormenta

Horacio Castellanos Moya

Tusquets. Barcelona, 2009

309 páginas. 18 euros

Hipólito Navarro, El Sindrome Chejov and the Spanish Short Story

I’ve been reading the short stories of the Spanish writer Hipólito Navarro recently (a review forth coming) and enjoying his complex and compressed stories, which are often no more than four pages long yet wait until the end to reveal themselves. He is someone who should make it into English someday. While looking for information on him I found the blog, El Sindrome Chejov (the Chekhov Syndrome) which has a large number of interview with short story writers, including a long with Navarro. It is worth the look.

Q: If a novelist always writes the same novel, is the work of a short story writer a farmhouse that one goes little by little tearing off the roof, reinforcing the walls and adding rooms?

A: Yes, one suspects that it is this way. At least in part…

P: Si un novelista escribe siempre la misma novela, ¿es la obra de un cuentista un cortijo al que se van poco a poco echando los techos, reforzando los muros y añadiendo habitaciones?

R: Sí, cabe sospechar que así sea. Al menos en parte…

A Reader’s Journey Through the Best American Short Stories

The Year of Bass (in a somewhat stunt fashion…Julia and Julie anyone. Perhaps that is a little unfair. ) his reading of all the stories in The Best American Short Stories  series. His reviews of each story are not reviews so much as train of thought reflections, often amounting to a screen’s length of thoughts about the story. He does his homework though, and I’ve never heard of some of these authors and it is interesting how many good stories are out there.

Alvaro Uribe and Cristina Rivera-Garza on Bookworm

KCRW’s Bookworm has an excellent interview with Uribe and Cristina Rivera-Garza about their new book Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction (Dalkey Archive). It is an interesting conversation about the state of Mexican fiction, especially for post Boom authors. One of the good things about the book is that it is bilingual, a rarity in fiction.  It is definitely a book worth reading and an interview worth listening to.