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.

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Best Book of 2011 from Elvira Navarro, Carlos Yushimito, Ana María Shua and other Spanish Language Authors

Canal-l has put together a blog that lists the favorite books of 2011 by various Spanish Language authors such as Elvira Navarro, Carlos Yushimito, Ana María Shua. It is an interesting list and I have even read one book, Alberto Fuget’s Missing. Una investigación which I thought was a great book and one of my favorites of the year. Another I have been reading for a while, The Complete Short Stories of Lydia Davis. As with all the lists from outside of the US it is always fascinating to see how many books from outside the Spanish speaking world they choose.

Miguel Ángel Muñoz, Andrés Barba, Elvira Navarro Writing About Summer in Letras Libres

Letras Libres has a series of reflections on summer by several authors I am familiar with, including Miguel Ángel Muñoz, Andrés Barba, and Elvira Navarro, the last two part of the Granta youngsters edition. Miguel Ángel Muñoz is a short story writer and owner of the blog, El síndrome Chejov (you can see my review of one of his books here). Each piece is a specie of reflections on youth in the summer.

From the Muñoz

¿No ocurrió todo durante el verano? Entendí muy pronto que “verano” no significaba viaje o vacaciones. Nadie me lo explicó, pero fue fácil saberlo. Durante aquellos meses, los hábitos se rompían para los mayores y solo para ellos. Los niños nos abanicábamos con los descubrimientos de la brillante rutina. En cada gesto, en las conversaciones, en las visitas que hacíamos o recibíamos, en cada minuto de cada día del verano daba la hora un reloj parado, con los mecanismos sumergidos en gozo. Pero no nos mientas, porque algo así ocurría siempre. En realidad, en cada minuto de cada día del año la infancia se desarrollaba ante un telón continuamente descorrido. Con ustedes, la vida, aunque no la conozcan y se presente sin avisar.

Y, sin embargo, recuerdas el verano como un resumen o una máquina que condensara en figuras de plastilina lo que ocurrió entonces. Si es verdad que en los meandros neuronales del cerebro perviven intactos aquellos recuerdos que ya han desaparecido, a la espera del invento que los ponga de nuevo ante nosotros a voluntad, quizás algún día explote otra vez aquella felicidad que hoy recuperas a retazos.

From the Navarro

Mi padre tenía una agencia de viajes. Lo que acabo de decir es inexacto; sin embargo, de pequeña creía que la sucursal de Cemo en Valencia pertenecía a mi padre, puesto que era el único que trabajaba en un despacho y daba órdenes fulgurantes, y además entre las ideas que por aquel entonces tenía yo de los quehaceres de un jefe estaban las conversaciones interminables con clientes, unos ojos entrecerrados que enfocaban un punto imposible de alguna orografía recóndita, el cigarro manchando el esmalte dental y mis idas y venidas por el suelo resbaloso, que se aceleraban cuando la vacilación y las palabras arrastradas se volvían fugaces: tenía que darme prisa para pedir el dinero de la merienda. Acechaba la siguiente llamada. Por otra parte, me digo ahora, un padre no puede sino ser jefe, y las frases generan obligaciones que hay que respetar. Si, por ejemplo, yo hubiera empezado esta narración con: “Mi padre era el gerente de la sucursal de Viajes Cemo en Valencia”, algo fundamental en la génesis del texto se habría roto, y me resultaría imposible escribir una sola palabra sobre mis vacaciones y los viajes. La expresión inexacta es la semilla, y también la llave, del ritmo con el que el magma incierto al que doy el nombre de “recuerdos” se ordena en oraciones.

Aunque solo era el gerente, Miguel Navarro se encargaba de los itinerarios de los viajes del Imserso, y se hacía acompañar, cómo no, de su oficio en las presentaciones,

Granta’s Best Young Spanish Writers at Three Percent

The ever interesting blog Three Percent from Open Letter Books is publishing bios of all 22 of the writers featured in Granta’s Best young writers in Spanish. So far they have put up bios of Andres Barba and a short story in English, Andres Neuman, Carlos Labbe, Federico Falco, and Santiago Roncagliolo amongst others. Definitely worth following if you are interested.

I’ve always had a thing for Spanish literature. Not sure exactly why or how this started, although I do remember struggling my way through Cortazar’s “A Continuity of Parks,” thinking holy s— this can’t actually be what’s happening, then reading the English version, finding myself even more blown away and proceeding to devour his entire oeuvre over the course of the ensuing year. (The next tattoo I get will likely be a reference to either Hopscotch or 62: A Model Kit.)

There’s something special about the great Spanish-language works . . . They can be as philosophically complicated as the French (see Juan Jose Saer’s Nouveau Roman influenced novels), while still remaining very grounded, emotional (see all of Manuel Puig), and others represent the epitome of wordplay and linguistic gamesmanship (see Cabrera Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers).

Not trying to say that Spanish-language literature is better than that of other languages—I’m just trying to explain why I’m so drawn to it, why we published Latin American authors make up such a large portion of Open Letter’s list (Macedonio Fernandez, Juan Jose Saer, Alejandro Zambra, Sergio Chejfec, not to mention the Catalan writers, which, though vastly different in language, have a sort of kinship with their fellow Spanish writers). And why I read so many Spanish works in my “free time,” why I love Buenos Aires, the tango, etc. . . .

Regardless, when I found out that Granta was releasing a special issue of the “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists,” I was psyched. (This really hits at the crux of my obsessions: Spanish literature and lists.) I tried to tease names from the forthcoming list out of the wonderful Saskia Vogel and the multi-talented John Freeman, but neither would give away any secrets. So when the list was finally announced, I was doubly pleased to see that six of the authors on there either already are published by Open Letter or will be in the near future.

Granta en español Announces Its Best Young Novelists in Spanish

Grant en español has announced their take on the best young novelists in Spanish. You can see a complete list plus links to interviews and other information at El Pais’s blog, Papeles Perdidos. Here is the list of names:

Andrés Barba (España), Oliverio Coelho (Argentina), Federico Falco (Argentina), Pablo Gutiérrez (España), Rodrigo Hasbun (Bolivia), Sonia Hernández (España), Carlos Labbé (Chile), Javier Montes (España), Elvira Navarro (España), Matías Néspolo (Argentina), Andrés Neuman (Argentina), Alberto Olmos (España) Pola Oloixarac (Argentina), Antonio Ortuño (México), Patricio Pron (Argentina), Lucía Puenzo (Argentina), Andrés Ressia Colino (Uruguay), Santiago Roncagliolo (Perú), Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), Andrés Felipe Solano (Colombia), Carlos Yushimito del Valle (Perú) y Alejandro Zambra (Chile).

I have heard of several of these writers and some are in English. I know I have read a story by Samanta Schweblin and I think I liked it. She had something in the Latin American issue of Zoetrope. I haven’t read Andres Nueman yet, and I’m a little disappointed I didn’t buy one of his books when I was in Barcelona; he was on my list. Alejandro Zambra has been translated into English. You can read both Bonsai and the Private Lives of Trees. Santiago Roncagliolo has one book in English and as I noted earlier this week he will be on El Publico Lee. Jorge Volpi has noted his writings as a way forward with the political novel. I don’t know about the rest of the authors, but I guess that will give me an excuse to read the issue.

Update:

Read about some of them in English.

Young Spanish Language Writers on the Internet and Writing

I don’t often take much stock in prognosticative journalism, but El País has an interview with 8 young Spanish Language novelists about how the Internet has effected their writing, and they mentioned a few things that have influenced their writing. I haven’t read any other their work, although, I did give up on an El Público Lee episode that was interviewing Elvira Navarro. I’m a little doubtful that filling a story with the detritus of the Internet would make for good reading:

[…]Kirmen Uribe: “The structure in the Internet, the utilization of the first person, the sub-chapters that have length of a computer screen, that are autonomous…” All of this has a great influence on his work. “I even reproduce,” he says, “the new technologies explicitly: emails, Wikipedia entries, Google searches…”

[…]Kirmen Uribe: “La estructura en red, la utilización de la primera persona, que los subcapítulos tengan la longitud de una pantalla de ordenador, que sean autónomos…”. Todo eso tiene una gran influencia en su obra. “Incluso reproduzco”, dice, “las nuevas tecnologías de manera explícita: correos electrónicos, entradas de Wikipedia, búsquedas de Google…”