My Review of The Future Is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction at the Quarterly Conversation

My review of The Future Is Not Ours is up at the Quarterly Conversation. This came out last week but I´ve been off line for a while.

The Future Is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction edited by Diego Trelles Paz

The Future Is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction edited by Diego Trelles Paz

Review by Paul Doyle

Editor Diego Trelles Paz notes in his solid and lengthy introduction to The Future Is Not Ours that this trend was first evident with the writers born in the ’60s, especially those of the McOndo and Crack groups, spearheaded by Alberto Fuguet and Jorge Volpi, respectively. Both as a reaction to the constraint imposed by the writing of the Boom, and to the political climate, writers gave up on the “total novel,” which tried to capture the whole of a country. While Paz oversells the importance of events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the murders in Juarez, Mexico, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in shaping the writers and works in this collection, there is a clear awareness of the dysfunctional world they inherited. Paz claims “one can recognize the rather nihilistic conviction with which each writer confronts the disillusionment that” uses cynicism and indifference to avoid disappointment. Having seen so many failures, there is only so much one can say about a nation.

My Review of The Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas up at Quarterly Conversation

My review of the Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas is up at the Quarterly Conversation. I like this review quite a bit and I think I did justice to the book.  It seems like I spent a lifetime with it, reading it both in Spanish and in English then reading all the articles about the period over the last few weeks. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting.

At 6PM on February 23rd, 1981, Lieutenant Coronel Tejero, accompanied by armed soldiers, entered Spain’s legislative assembly to overthrow the young democratic government. He failed. Instead, King Juan Carlos and President Aldolfo Suárez became heroes by defeating the coup and opening the path for Spain to become the modern democracy it is today. Or so goes the legend. For the Spanish writer Javier Cercas, who lived through the events of that night, it is dismaying to see them pass into legend, turning a complicated night full of intrigue and ambiguity into a triumphalist moment of Spanish history whose only legacy seems to be the annual televising of Tejero’s entrance into the Congress of Deputies. The 30 seconds of televised memory isn’t enough, what is needed is a thorough investigation, and Cercas’s answer is the genre-bending novel, The Anatomy of a Moment, which examines every facet of the night in detail—sometimes excruciating detail. The novelistic approach lets him question one of modern Spain’s founding myths, but also invites controversy; Anatomy was a sensation is Spain when it was published in 2009. Now English-language readers have a chance to see why.

You can read all my other posts about Javier Cercas here.

Encounters With Street Poets: Fernando

Coffee in had, 9:30 AM, I was studying a fixie in a bike shop window when this guy comes round the corner, stops, and asks if he can ask me something. I look him over—20oz Starbucks cup, cigarette, faux fur vest, shaved head—and think, what’s this guy want. Reluctantly, I say yes, but keep sipping my coffee, as if this is going to protect me some how.

“I’m a street artist and I’m trying to get something together so I can buy a new shirt at Value Village. You see my shoes, ” he points to his Docs, “these are Super Glued together.” I could see an opaque bead of something between sole and shoe leather.

“It works,” I said—one should be encouraging and he did do a good job.

“Can I do a poem for you? If you like it you can give me something,” he says in a kind of half audible voice. Maybe he’s been up all night, he has the look of the tweaker, a little shifty. Then again maybe he’s just nervous, or maybe he’s hitting on me. What ever it is, he has the look of someone who lives on the rough edge but wants something soft like a sonnet without the criticism that comes with poetry.

“Sure,” I say. Poetry can’t hurt, even if it comes from a stranger on an empty street.

“Oh, my cigarette is bothering you.”

It wasn’t.

“I’ll put it out,” and he steps back and puts it out on the side walk. Its a sympathetic moment and he seems to really care about his listener. “Its a love poem about the world. I write poems about love so I can change the world…no, I don’t know if I can do that, he laughs. At least he knows his limits. He closes his eyes for a moment then starts and as advertised its about love, about tenderness and has a hip-hop edge, almost musical. It isn’t a complicated poem, but I can’t remember it now, having left it on the street that generated it. Yet the experience of it is filled with earnestness and sympathy, a belief that this poem, this moment is a bond, an experience that we have to have and will take us beyond the street corner.I don’t so much like the poem as the idea of the poem on the street corner.

He stops. It is awkward, silent, as he looks at me: too much direct eye contact. And I say what you have to say, “Its good.” Another pause, because I don’t know what our contract was. What was I supposed to pay him?

“So can you help me out?” he asks, but is still quiet.

I feel like my ears are plugged. Did I hear him right? I dig down in my pocket: 22 cents. “All I have is this I say,” as I stretch out my hand. It seems insulting.

“Any thing helps. But you could help me buy  new shirt.”

I don’t want to buy him a shirt. It costs too much and now we are back to the moment when I was first looking in the window, thinking what does he want. There is another pause as he realizes I’m breaking the contract.

“You sure?”

“I can’t,” I say.

He turns and I say good luck. He’s disappointed and I as I watch him walk he passes by the Value Village without even looking at the window displays.

My May Reading at the Hugo House

I read at the Hugo House Monday night (5/3/2010). It is an untitled piece as yet, but it is more or less done, except for the nervous, pre-read corrections. It was a bit of a departure in that it was designed to be funny, a piece of comedy. It was the first time I’ve read something like that, but I got plenty of laughs were I wanted them. It took the crowd a paragraph to get into it, but after that it went well. I even had to wait several times for the laughter to stop, ten seconds in one case, before I could continue reading. It is good to know that what you thought was going to work does.

Also on the bill was Dave Gardner reading an excerpt from his memoir of growing up in Guadalajara as a teen in the 50’s. It was interesting and if you want to read it or the whole book you can at his blog.

There were a couple of short stories that were good and one writer brought a friend and they acted out the dialog of her story. One woman, a Polish immigrant, read a piece about loosing her job and getting financial counseling so she could begin to save money again. She told us she was going to read it to some bankers later in the week. Then there was  piece about overcoming addiction and coming out as a transgendered woman. Those last two were quite a departure from the usual poetry and fiction. The best line of the night goes to the woman with the piece where she becomes a god: I don’t plan to do any work, that is what my pantheon is for.

Read at the Hugo House 3/1/2010

I did a little reading (2 pages to be exact) of a story called Hostages last night at the Hugo House. There was an interesting collection of readers. One woman read a poem that didn’t really seem like a poem, but what was interesting was when she sang parts of it. It was a welcome change from some of the slow talking symbolists. At the opposite spectrum was the Mexican American comedian who gave us 5 minutes of funny stand up. He had great delivery and sure knows how to wait for the laughs. The reading series actually tends to always have a couple of really interesting presenters.

Reading Fiction at the Hugo House

It has been years since I’ve gotten around to reading something in public. Usually, readings are either poetry centric, which makes sense since it is a short format and you can get a lot of people cycling through the stage and you don’t have to concentrate too long on any one thing. Or the reading feels like some sort of comedy fest. Again, poetry lends it self to this. Even if you write 3000 word, 5 minutes translates to a fourth of a story. If I had fifteen minutes…well you do the math.

I did decide after reading for five minutes, getting a few laughs were they were expected, that the real role of these readings is not to air out your latest piece, which I’m not so sure really matters without feedback (this is Seattle so there’s none of that), but to practice acting out the readings. Back before TV and perhaps a little too much seriousness, even great authors like Dickens would give dramatic readings of their works. Too few do that now. But if you are not writing a novel of ideas, why not. At least it will be entertaining.  We will see how that works out in practice next month.