Troy Jollimore’s recent review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new book Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, had one of those brilliant one liners that can some describe a whole class of fiction well. He writes, “Characters in contemporary fiction often suffer from Multiple Epiphany Disorder.” It is a line that sums up so much of contemporary short stories. The problem I have with the epiphanies is people seldom have them and when they do they seldom follow them. Moreover, it makes the fiction read like your 7th grade report about the field trip so that story really seems to have ended this way: I learned that… It is refreshing to see a writer avoid such nonsense. I think part of the problem is young writers are taught to have epiphanies. I remember I was. Someday, maybe, that vogue will disappear, but for now we at least have Ishiuro’s stories.
The Los Angles Times has a good review of The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. I’ve seen other reviews of the book (if I was a better blogger I would actually link to it) and they were all good. The book is an interesting mix of history and story telling that ranges over the last 60 years of Columbian and European history:
“The Informers” is narrated by Gabriel Santoro, a Bogotá reporter and author of a book that recounts the life story of a Jewish German immigrant named Sara Guterman whose family was one of many to escape to Colombia during the early years of Nazism. The primary distinction of “A Life in Exile,” this book within a book, is the review it receives from Santoro’s identically named father. The elder Santoro, a professor with a reputation as the moral conscience of the embattled nation, inexplicably savages the book in a prominent newspaper.
When his son confronts him, the scholar elaborates on his dismissal: “Memory isn’t public. . . . [T]hose who through prayer or pretense had arrived at a certain conciliation, are now back to square one. . . . you come along, white knight of history, to display your courage by awakening things . . . you and your parasitical book, your exploitative book, your intrusive book.”
The plot gets more complicated as it goes on and you’ll have to read the review to see more, but Adam Mansbach’s conclusion should make that an easy decision.
Vásquez is a hugely skilled writer, his prose weighted with authority and carefully observed detail, and he is a dexterous weaver of voices and time periods. “The Informers” fares best when he allows his protagonist to stay in the moment, to build scenes instead of imagining wide swaths of the past. The journalist’s visit to Enrique Deresser is gripping: revelatory and elusive, understated and devastating. Sara Guterman’s recollection of an explosive 1943 dinner the Deressers held for a Nazi named Bethke is deeply dramatic, rife with tension and complexity. The emotional impact of such scenes — in which a nation’s unresolved pain is distilled, writ small, in the actions of a single man or the volleys exchanged over a dinner table — hints at the power of which Vásquez is capable.