El último libro de Sergi Pámies (Sergi Pámies’ Last Book) by Sergi Pámies – A Review

El último libro de Sergi Pámies (Sergi Pámies’ Last Book)
Version del autor
Sergi Pámies
Anagrama, 2000, pg 139

Sergi Pámies is a Catalan short story writer, novelist and journalist whose work has been widely translated in Europe but has yet to have a collection come out in English yet. He’s probably as well known in Spain and Cataluña for his essays in La Vanguardia, a Spanish language daily in Barcelona. El último libro de Sergi Pámies is the Spanish translation of L’últim llibre de Sergi Pámies, originally written in Catalan and apparently translated by the author. (Typically I don’t read translations into Spanish, but this is the only way to get access to his books, which I’ve been interested in reading every since I saw an interview with him in 2010.)

Pámies work does have some similarities to the Catalan author Quim Monzo in that there is a humor, always a little dark, and an interest in parable like stories that push the characters to desperate paradoxes. While Pámies tends towards the fantastical, the collection opens with the wrenching El precio. One breakfast a son endures his father’s assault of tired and over used sayings all of which culminates in the phrase, everyone has his price. Later when the son calls his father to check on how he is, the son hears the father talking to his wife who has died years before. The son realizes as he is surrounded by the people passing through the train station living seemingly normal lives, that his price is falling and that his next step, that of playing along with his father, diminishes his price. It is an astute story, whose brevity captures the changing roles of father and son: from the adversarial when the son was young and striking out on his own and the father his own powerful figure; to that of the caretaker relationship that requires him to become something different, something that goes against his nature and diminishes his self worth.

La máquina de hacer cosquillas also has the same touch of melancholy loss as a father returns to the same book store he has frequented with his young daughter. He hopes to get in and buy something quickly without the old clerk noticing him. He fails and she sees him. Her greeting is warm, and her gift of the sweet for the girl would normally be accepted with happily, but it only brings back the memories of a tragedy and the quick journey to the little book shop is anything but quick.

In a funnier vein is El océano Pacifico which makes up half the book. It follows “the man” who has bought a new Audi A6 and discovers that every time he plays a CD in it the musician dies shortly after. First there is Barbara, then Stephan Grapelli, and finally Sonny Bono. He flees to Paris for the Christmas break to avoid the celebrations at home, noting

Una corona de muérdago convierte la puerta en una especie de atud en posición vertical

A crown of mistletoe made the door into a kind of vertical coffin.

Paris is not a particularly festive city for him. It is a gray city of mourning and as he walks the streets and endures the rain Pámies turns Paris into one of those dark places of noir or French new wave where only isolation and darkness exist. Taking the metro he sees a street musician playing a clarinet. She is beautiful and he falls in love with her enough that he buys her CD. At his hotel he opens the case with trepidation, afraid his curse will kill her, but it’s empty. He searches through every metro station looking for her and when he finds her, they make a bargain. If she can survive 12 hours after playing her CD, he will give her 10,000 franks. She takes the offer and the man and the clarinetist play a game of waiting, she not trusting him, he limiting his desires for a woman he desperately wants but cannot have and is afraid he will kill. Ultimately, when he is returning home he takes pride in his ability to fall out of love. It was something, like Paris, that was a passing infatuation. What does it say though, that everything he loves dies (although the fate of the clarinetist is left open). Instead we are left with the death of Carl Perkins. It is a strange tale whose insights about Paris are colored with a loneliness and quiet desperation that is chilling and comedic.

Perhaps in his most fantastical and paradoxical, a man who can see into the near future sees himself in a hospital and has no idea how sick he is or what will happen. Even though he has the power to see into the future, he is powerless to see beyond the room. What he finds himself wanting to know is what will he know when he is actually in that moment in the hospital. Even for those with the power to see the future, the future is not enough. He needs to be in the future to see the future. It is his most Borgesian story whose brief pages belie a paradox.

Sergi Pámies’ work is an excellent mix of the satirical, fantastical, and humorous, bridging social satire, to political cometary, to family stories of loss. An astute observer, especially in his descriptions of Paris, his stories are filled with observations on modern life. For those interested in Catalan literature, perhaps one day he will be translated.

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A Review of Catalan Short Story Writer Sergi Pàmies’s La bicicleta estática

Letras Libres has a favorable review of Catalan short story writer Sergi Pàmies’s new book La bicicleta estática (the Static Bicycle). Although they compare his style to Carver, Moore, and Wolf, something in my book isn’t such a good thing, the stories themselves sound a more interesting. Nothing of his is in English and I didn’t find out about him until I caught an episode of Nostromo recently and was intrigued. The stories have some fantastical elements, although quite a few sound more straight forward. He plays with the autobiographical, having characters that resemble the author, even if the story is not  autobiographical.

Los cuentos de La bicicleta estática funcionan como variaciones de un número reducido de temas entre los que, como puede verse, destacan las relaciones disfuncionales, los fracasos amorosos y la muerte de quienes amamos, temas que los editores de Pàmies han llamado en la contraportada del libro “los naufragios y desconciertos de la madurez”, en una atribución ratificada por el propio autor al sostener en una entrevista reciente que son los temas más recurrentes en ese período de la vida que tiene lugar “una vez que has comprobado que la felicidad es efímera y, en general, muy poco fiable”. En esa misma entrevista, Pàmies hacía explícito el carácter autobiográfico de algunos de sus relatos, que aparece ratificado por la elección en la mayor parte de ellos de lo que vulgarmente denominamos la “primera persona”, y lo vinculaba a la llegada de la madurez.
A este solipsismo vinculado con la creación de personajes que (sin la pretensión de esclarecer cuánto hay de autobiográfico en sus peripecias) tienen la misma edad, una profesión similar e incluso la misma apariencia física que su autor, Pàmies le suma dos relatos fantásticos que abundan explícita y cómicamente en la necesidad de profundizar en el conocimiento de uno mismo: en el primero de ellos, “Benzodiazepina”, un hombre decide encontrarse consigo mismo tras haber estado chateando con él durante varias semanas; el encuentro acaba con los dos personajes (que son él mismo) prometiéndose un encuentro que harán todo lo posible por evitar. En “Supervivencia”, un hombre inicia una expedición en busca de las respuestas que supuestamente se encontrarían en su interior, pero descubre que este es un armario vacío y agobiante y huye de sí mismo por un agujero. Ambos relatos ofrecen una imagen devastadora de los abismos de la personalidad, pero La bicicleta estática no es un libro oscuro. Pàmies es honesto y profundo, pero nunca abandona la ligereza y la ironía, a las que suma una gran capacidad de observación y un talento particular para la ternura. La austeridad formal de sus relatos parece aquí puesta al servicio de la exuberancia imaginativa y vincula los relatos del autor catalán con los de Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff y Lorrie Moore, por mencionar solo tres ejemplos. Al igual que los personajes de estos tres autores, los de Pàmies se aferran a unas certezas de las que en realidad desconfían pero que retienen por ser las únicas que poseen realmente; en ese sentido, tal vez el único personaje feliz del libro sea aquel al que “como le han extirpado la nostalgia, no le pesa la inercia hacia unos recuerdos alterados por el poder transformador de la memoria. Como no tiene esperanza, no invierte ninguna energía en proyectarse hacia un futuro improbable. Liberado de la dulzura física y anímica que tanto le torturaba […], saborea su saliva, felizmente insípida” (77). No hay ninguna heroicidad en ello, pero tal vez sí la haya en la forma en que Pàmies practica en este y en otros relatos excepcionales proezas narrativas; es lo que sucede en “Un año de perro equivale a siete años de persona”, en el que un perro y un cerdo destruyen involuntariamente sus relaciones de pareja por consolarse mutuamente y de forma alternativa, y en “Tres maneras de no decir te quiero”, que narra la supuesta incapacidad de un autor para escribir una historia de amor entre el amor correspondido y el amor no correspondido e incluye dos textos que prueban que la supuesta incapacidad no lo era realmente.

Interview with Spanish – Catalan Short Story Writer Sergi Pàmies

El Pais has an interview with the Catalan short story writer Sergi Pàmies. I recently discovered this author when I was watching the Nostromo episode about the short story. In that episode he reads a story which I liked. I didn’t know he writes in Catalan and his book, La bicicleta estática, was just published in Spanish. He also writes regularly (as does Quim Monzo) for La Vanguradia a Spanish language news paper based in Barcelona. Anyway, he looks like someone to find more about.

P. ¿Por qué le costó tanto ‘El Principito’?

R. Hace años que quería escribir un libro sobre el efecto intimidador del canon literario, pero siempre acababa siendo un cuento sobre el Ulises de Joyce… Pero cuando El Principito se metió en la vida de mis hijos y reaccionaron como yo, postergando su lectura, vi el momento. He tenido problemas con El Principito durante 41 años y solo lo leí porque tenía que escribir este cuento. Pero fíjese, hay millones de seres humanos que van por la calle fingiendo que lo han leído.

P. ¿Escribe en catalán los libros y en castellano los artículos?

R. Casi siempre. Pero tampoco nadie me ha pedido que escriba libros en castellano.

P. Después del lío de Fráncfort, para usted, ¿qué es la literatura catalana?

R. Fráncfort dio sus frutos… Yo no fui porque pensaba que habían invitado a la cultura catalana, no a la literatura. Pero la literatura catalana es la que se escribe en catalán. La literatura la define la lengua en la que se escribe.

The Spanish Short Story Featured on Nostromo (Spanish Only)

I recently discovered the Spanish literary program Nostromo and the most recent episode is about the short story. It was quite interesting and worth watching, especially since it features one of the favorites at By the Fire Light, Cristina Fernández Cubas. Update: here’s the link

Nuestro programa de hoy está dedicado al relato. José María Merino, autor de extraordinarios relatos y microrelatos, compartirá con nosotros su particular visión sobre el género. También visitarán Nostromo Sergi Pàmies, Cristina Fernández Cubas y Pedro Zarraluki: tres de los mejores cuentistas de nuestro país. Una serie de lectores y escritores nos recomendarán sus cuentos y autores favoritos, y en el espacio de poesía contaremos con Jorge Riechmann, un poeta comprometido con la ecología.