The Spanish short story writer Medardo Fraile (1925-2013) has died. While not known well in English, he is considered one of the best of his generation, which included Aldecoa, Martín Gaite, Sánchez Ferlosio, Matute, and Fernández Santos. The writers of later generations such as Navarro, Tizón, Sáez de Ibarra have recognized his work, which is realistic than his contemporaries, as masterful. A few of his stories have been translated in English and In August Pushkin Press is going to bring out a translation of Cuentos de verdad.
There are several obituaries and remberances at El Pais but the best I’ve read is from Andres Neuman who notes that he always remembers a phrase of Fraile’s:
«La estuvo mirando tres minutos; dos de ellos los dedicó a la nariz»
He watched her for 3 minutes; two of them dedicated to her nose.
Era metafórico y minucioso, como en sus cuentos; y narraba lo que pasó en la guerra, más de setenta años después, con el mismo vigor con que hubiera contado el presente. Creía que el cuento era “un puñetazo lleno de realidad posible”, y a aquel tiempo le concedía una vigencia insoslayable, por eso hablaba de lo que pasó entonces como si estuviera narrando oralmente lo que quizá entonces se contó a sí mismo, mientras paseaba, bajo el ruido de las bombas, por estos escenarios entonces devastados.
Contaba sin pudor su vida, y hablaba con libertad de amigos y de adversarios, a los que zahería en voz baja; su recuerdo más emocionado, en las memorias y en persona, era para Ignacio Aldecoa, prematuramente fallecido en 1969, a los 44 años. Aldecoa era el jefe de filas de la generación de Medardo, “era el hermano mayor”. Evocando esa muerte, Fraile, que supo la noticia por casualidad en su exilio escocés, dijo que aquel compañero era sin duda un escritor de una voz “inconfundible, ejemplar”, el mejor de su tiempo, y mientras lo iba diciendo de sus ojos nítidamente azules fueron brotando unas lágrimas que al fin le quebraron la voz.
Nunca se fue del todo de España, o nunca estuvo del todo en Escocia. Cuando venía a Madrid llamaba a sus amigos, a sus editores, explicaba su nostalgia en función del frío que pasaba en Glasgow, pero en realidad sintió que aquella larga estancia fuera de su país había desnaturalizado el conocimiento que él mismo, y sus estudiosos y animadores —José María Merino, Ángel Zapata, Eloy Tizón…—, creía que merecía su producción literaria. Le pregunté por qué seguía viviendo allí, tan frío y tan lejos. “Pues ni yo mismo lo sé”. Dio clases en la Universidad de Strathclyde, desde los años setenta. Allí se casó, allí nació su hija. Explicando por qué seguía en Escocia dijo: “Allí estoy, recordando; yo vivo en Escocia, pero lo único que hago allí es recordar España”.
La familia del aire: Entrevistas con cuentistas españoles (The Family of the Air: Interviews with Spanish Short Story Writers)
Miguel Ángel Muñoz
Páginas de Espuma, 2011, 474 pg.
The Spanish short story writer Miguel Ángel Muñoz’s La familia del aire: Entravistas con cuentistas españoles (The Family of the Air: Interviews with Spanish Short Story Writers) is an invaluable guide to the modern Spanish short story, and one of the best books I’ve read on the art of writing. Muñoz is an excellent and dedicated interviewer whose questions show a deep and thoughtful reading of each interviewee’s body of work. He sees interviews as not just another genre, but as an art unto itself and as he mentions in his introduction, he keeps collections of interviews in binders. He believes that letting an author talk about his or her work helps expand it, place it in a deeper context, rather than only letting the work speak for it self. It is this deep devotion to short stories and his ability to draw from the 37 included authors what makes short stories so compelling makes the book a must read for anyone interested in the short story. It is all the more impressive since all the interviews were conducted over a series of 3 or so years and published on his blog, El sindrome Chejov. In one of those great acts of personal fascination lived publicly, in 2006 Muñoz began to interview Spanish short story authors. What started quietly without any grand ambitions, morphed over the intervening years into one of the primary sources about authors working with the short story. Muñoz notes he was a little surprised by the willingness the authors agreed to interviews, but his dedication and preparation, which at the minimum includes reading each interviewee’s oeuvre, makes him a trustworthy interviewer, one that most writers would love to have. Muñoz also brings an sense of excitement to the short story. When reading his interviews (or his blog posts) it is easy to catch that same excitement—I should know, since every time I read one, I want to go out and read the author’s stories. The book is truly a one of a kind success that I wish existed for English language authors.
The only draw back of the book for my English language readers is that very few of these authors are available in English (certainly not the author’s fault). I have tried to remedy that with my recent article about unpublished Spanish Short story writers at the Quarterly Conversation. And when an author has been translated into English it is usually a novel. The most recognizable name in the book is probably Enrique Vila-Matas. Andrés Neuman, the last interview of the book and one of the better ones, also just had a novel come out in English (read my review here). That said, one of the most fascinating things about the book for an English speaker is to see what authors have influenced these authors. Given that English language authors may not be exposed to as many translations as they are in Europe, it might come as a surprise that two of the most common names that came up were Raymond Carver and John Cheever. Over and over in the list of influences these two always showed up. Some authors have turned to the English speaking authors as a refuge from the Spanish language traditions, but even when they cite Spanish language authors those two show up. I’m not so sure that would be the case for the reverse. Other English language authors mentioned were Poe, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Mansfield, Lorrie More and Alice Munro.
Spanish language influences tended to come mostly from Latin America. Cortazar was the most sited, the Onetti and Borges, and with a little less frequency Rulfo. There was a sense of disinterest in Spanish short authors from the middle of the century. The only two that were commonly cited were Juan Eduardo Zúñiga and Medardo Fraile. I think this is a function of one generation turning against another, something Andrés Neuman noted, saying that Spanish authors should take more pride in their own tradition with mid century authors like Ana Maria Matute. Only one author, Fancisco Afilado, though, really did not like the Latin Americans, especially Cortazar who he said led too may young writers to play games with their stories. Again, as a contrast to the American scene that notion of play is often lacking and too many write in the realistic vain. Afilado, naturally, is the author who loved the American realists the most, and is a perfect example of those who believe that noir is the best writing because it is the most real. I can’t say I agree with that, but it was refreshing and annoying at the same time to find one author in these interviews who has that opinion.
There were relatively few references to authors outside of the English and Spanish traditions. There were, of course, the trinity, Chekhov, Maupassant, and Kafka, but relatively few references to authors from any other languages (except perhaps Catalan). Only once did I see a reference to Thomas Bernard, for example. But given who rich both of these traditions are, there is quite a bit to mine in terms of influence.
With the exception of a few novelists, all the interviewees are dedicated to the art of the short story. As such, every interview has a question about the disrespect given to short stories in Spain. There were several theories all of which probably have some validity. My favorite was Carlos Castán’s theory that all the Christmas stories that come out ever year and which written by famous authors, turn readers away from the short story, because the stories are written by people who are not short story writers. I think the lack of critics who specialize in the short story, especially those at newspapers, is probably a better theory. The short story has the perception that it is just what you do between novels. Another mentioned that the public likes to engross themselves in a big story and don’t like the stopping and restarting that a collection of short stories entails. That may be the prescient commentary: it is one I sometimes feel when I am reading collections of short stories, especially ones larger than 200 pages.
Of course, things always look better across the water, and there were multiple references to the tradition of the short story in the US. However, I often feel that what they are looking at is a tradition that is from 30 years ago, if not father back. While major publishers do bring out collections of short stories, they are still a small fraction of published fiction. And while there are small magazines and journals like Tin House, the short story also lacks for prestige. Perhaps things are better here, but it certainly is not a paradise.
Ultimately, the book with its ample indexes, appendices of authors cited in the interviews, and a list of each author’s published works, short story or otherwise, is one of the best references to the short story I can think of. And as one might expect my list of authors that I’m interested in reading has grown. These are just a few that you may see on these pages some day: Mercedes Abad, José María Merino, Medardo Fraile, Juan Eduardo Zúñiga, Iban Zaldua, Ángel Olgoso, among others. That, I think, is the highest praise for La familia del aire: Entravistas con cuentistas españoles.
Revista de Letras has an excellent interview with the short story writer Medardo Fraile and a pdf of one of his more famous short stories. He, as the interviewer points out, is of the same generation as Ana Maria Matute, and is one of the few still writing short stories. It is a good interview for a couple reasons: one he cites many authors worth reading (which I agree with); and it avoids some of the silly questions about short story writing that I often find, and instead, tries to give the read a way to enter his works, including asking the author what stories would be a good staring place. They do touch on the workshop phenomenon which is new to Spain. I think his take on the workshop as a place where new writers can feel they are not alone is spot on. The short story is probably 1500 words and has that economy that suggests whole lives but resists describing them and you walk away with a view of a life that you know, but are still uncertain because of the possibilities, which for me is the mark of something interesting (although, it can also lead to bad writing). (By the way, the story is at the bottom of interview. I missed it the first time)
Medardo Fraile (Madrid, 1925) es un referente ineludible en el cuento contemporáneo español y el eslabón del que parten varios de los mejores cuentistas de las últimas décadas. Cuentistas que, aun trabajando el relato desde diferentes estéticas, reconocen una deuda inequívoca con la literatura de Medardo Fraile. Aunque autores de la talla de Juan Eduardo Zúñiga o Ana María Matute mantienen también viva la voz de aquella generación del medio siglo, es el autor de Cuentos con algún amor (1954), Cuentos de verdad (1964) o Contrasombras (1998) quien mejor ha permitido encadenar una suerte de “linaje” con el cuento actual. Maestro literario y literal de cuentistas como Ángel Zapata o Víctor García Antón, contemporáneo de Ignacio Aldecoa y narrador de mirada afilada y lírica al tiempo. Este ciclo pretende dibujar el mapa del relato breve español hasta hoy y, por ello, no podía comenzar con otro cuentista que no fuera Medardo Fraile.
Leí en una entrevista reciente que te hizo el citado Ángel Zapata que “Quiero dormir”, de Chéjov, te parecía uno de los relatos más perturbadores que recordabas. ¿Qué cuento de todos los que has escrito crees que podría sorprender y conmover más a un lector que, a estas alturas, llegara por primera vez a cualquiera de tus libros? ¿Hay alguno que, a tu juicio, resuma tu poética personal con un efecto más claro?
Bueno, eso depende siempre del lector y sólo por haber escrito casi doscientos cuentos me atrevo a citarte catorce títulos y así habrá para todas las sensibilidades (perdóname): “Las personas mayores”, “Los encogidos”, “Punto final”, “Roque Macera”, “Perdónanos, Hermy”, “Episodio Nacional”, “El señorito”, “Crónica de la esperanza”, “De pronto (Celebración Ibérica)”, “La piedra”, “El sillón”, “Old man drive”, “Postrimerías”, “No hay prisa en abrir los ojos”… Lo de mi “poética personal” es para mí más difícil: ¿”El banco”, “Primeros pasos”? Quizá.