Posts

Showing posts from August, 2009

De González to González

Image
Mes (autoproclamado) del cuento, entrada número 31.Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 31. [In English below]Desde que comencé este mes del cuento he querido reseñar un cuento puertorriqueño. La antología más conocida (o al menos la más accesible) de literatura puertorriqueña en este momento es la de Mercedes López-Baralt, publicada por la Universidad de Puerto Rico; Google Books la muestra aquí. Leí su sección de cuentos por sorbos, y de hecho ahí encontré uno de los cuentos que reseño hoy: “La carta”, de José Luis González. Pero para esta entrada quería algo más. Realicé una cacería infructuosa del cuento con el cual Mayra Santos-Febres se ganó el Juan Rulfo. Pensé en incluir un texto reciente de Luis López Nieves (“Los pedazos del corazón”, disponible aquí), básicamente una angustiosa literalización de una metáfora. Finalmente me topé, en The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, con lo que buscaba: “Lotería”, del puertorriqueño Kevin González. Es un cuento en inglés, …

An Ethnic Story

Image
Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 30.“[T]hat’s why I respect your writing, Nam. […] You couldtotallyexploit the Vietnamese thing. Butinstead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins, and Hiroshima orphans—and New York painters with hemorrhoids.”That’s a line from Nam Le’s short story “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” first published by Zoetrope and available on their website, here. I read it in the Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 volume. The quote captures words said by a friend of the narrator (the narrator is also called Nam, and we are probably supposed to think of him as the author himself). So wait: Nam Le wrote about Colombian assassins?Indeed, he did so in a story called “Cartagena,” and please humor me by reading the first few paragraphs of it, available online here. I’ll come back to them in a minute. It seemed strange to see a Vietnamese man raised in Australia and now living in the States writin…

Unaccustomed Earth

Image
Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 29.Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth enjoys the rare distinction of being a short story collection sold not only in bookstores but also in the cluttered stands of department stores like Wal-Mart. Lahiri is darlinged by the publishing world, turning out bestseller after bestseller. Today’s story will be the title piece from that 2008 collection I just mentioned: “Unaccustomed Earth.” I couldn’t find it online.Put briefly: it’s a wonderful story. It’s a long story, too: unlike the short short fiction I mentioned a few days ago, Lahiri likes her stories long. The shortest piece of the book takes up 24 pages (it was originally published here), and the longest is the title story, at 57 pages. Even then, I flipped quite quickly through “Unaccustomed Earth.” I wasn’t prodded on by suspense, by the urge to know what’ll happen next, but rather because the language flows so smoothly. There are none of those rough patches I’ve mentioned in stories …

The Massive Rat

Image
Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 28.The Guardian had an interesting “Summer short story special,” with stories by authors like Dave Eggers (yes, again) and A. M. Homes. Well, today’s pick for a short story comes from that summer special: it’s David Mitchell’s “The Massive Rat.” It’s available here.The story is good. It describes a couple (Nick and Lorna) whose marriage is on the verge of collapsing. The story kicks off with snippets of a conversation about divorce, Lorna about to drive off with their child (Fred). It rains, Nick goes out to do some gardening, he smashes a window in a fit of rage (“[s]hark-fins of crashing glass” fall down), and then Lorna shows up again, asking Nick for help with a rat stuck behind the fireplace.We learn they’ve had some economic troubles (“there’s no denying that the money stuff hasn’t helped the marital stuff”), and Nick has felt like a “Kept Man.” Every bit of casual conversation provokes a riposte aimed at the carotid—or just plain n…

This Is What It Means to Say Sherman Alexie

Image
Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 27.I had to double-check it was the same Sherman Alexie. It was, of course. I remembered reading—and liking—Alexie’s short story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” a few months ago. (A garbled version of the story is found here.) It’s a somewhat stolid, carefully knitted description of a Native American who lives in a reservation and who has to fly down to Phoenix to pick up his dead father’s things. Native American traditions, embodied in a visionary character called Thomas Builds-the-Fire, are subjected to perplexity and even mockery by others. Native Americans in the reservation have to cope with modernity, represented by both appliances and alcohol. I generally liked the story; some recurring themes give it depth and speak well of its author’s technique. It was part of Best American Short Stories 1994.A couple weeks ago, Sherman Alexie published a story in The New Yorker called “War Dances.” It’s available here. It feels …

Short (short) story day

Image
Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 26.Flash fiction (or short short fiction, as it’s sometimes called) is a tough genre. You have to deliver a punch in a few hundred words, and many times the urge for that punch makes the story indistinguishable from a joke. Besides, many good literary devices need some elbowroom, and, well, flash fiction is all about not having that kind of space. Every word that goes in displaces a handful. Some stories flitter and pass away silently by the curb. Some stories become surreal, as to make you feel tsk-tsked for not having gotten it. Some stories deliver.As part of this short story month, I decided to make a small sampler of noteworthy flash fiction. I picked from a self-constrained version of flash fiction: the 500-word pieces from the magazine Quick Fiction, already 15 print numbers old and still going. I chose four pieces that are available online: Claudia Smith’s “Groove,” Anthony Tognazzini’s “Westminster March,” Rebecca Donnelly’s “One…

No muy amante de Todos los Santos

Image
Mes (autoproclamado) del cuento, entrada número 25.Desde hace un tiempo le tenía curiosidad a Los amantes de Todos los Santos, una colección de cuentos de Juan Gabriel Vásquez, publicada por Alfaguara en 2008. El libro recibió buenos comentarios. Además, me atraía el hecho de que la narración se apartara de la temática de la violencia que es tan recurrente en las letras colombianas. Terminé el libro hoy, y en realidad no me puedo declarar amante de Los amantes de Todos los Santos.Lo vi como un libro de transición. El autor se tornaba evidentemente mejor en cada uno de los siete cuentos que componen la antología: dentro de ese espectro, al primero no lo considero antologizable (un ejercicio literario de un escritor que prueba voces narrativas) y el último tampoco llegó a ser una obra maestra. Los últimos dos textos son claramente más robustos, más maduros, y muestran destrezas técnicas y sutilezas narrativas casi ausentes en los demás. Pensando en una hipotética antología de cuentos, c…

Guy de Maupassant

Image
Mes (autoproclamado) del cuento, entrada número 24.Juan Bosch tiene un ensayo breve que se llama “Apuntes sobre el arte de escribir cuentos”. Está disponible aquí. Es un texto bien curioso, algo que un contemporáneo no creo que podría escribir sin sonrojar. Plantea el afán cientificista tan característico de los siglos XIX y XX (miren por ejemplo la obsesión con la técnica y la disciplina, además de la fe en una serie de “principios del género […] inalterables”). Combina este afán con un culto organicista y espiritual de la literatura, también típico de un mundo que fue quedándose sin fe y buscó sustitutos artísticos para la teología.Pero ese no es mi punto. Mi punto es que, en cierto momento del texto, Bosch dice: “El cuentista joven debe estudiar con detenimiento la manera en que inician sus cuentos los grandes maestros; debe leer, uno por uno, los primeros párrafos de los mejores cuentos de Maupassant”, y menciona a tres autores más. A Maupassant se le considera uno de los fundador…

The Management of Grief

Image
A couple of days ago, when referring to two of Michael Cunningham’s short stories, I said I liked the tempo of “Pearls” better than that of “White Angels,” probably because “it’s a tale of yearning, rather than of mourning.” I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I think there is something inherently wrong with tales of mourning. A good candidate to dispel that impression came to mind. It’s Bharati Mukherjee’s short story “The Management of Grief,” which excels in its tempo (and in many other things, too). It’s been anthologized often, and one of those anthologies offers the only full-length version I found online, here.

This is a good story. It’s about a woman called Shaila Bhave, who lost her two sons and her husband. They were all from India, but lived in Toronto. Her husband (Vikram) was taking the boys to India when a Sikh terrorist blew the plane up. The story recounts how Bhave (and other grieving relatives) cope. Bhave and others travel to Ireland to identify the bodies…

The Five Heridas

Image
Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 22.About a month ago, The New Yorker published a short story called “Five Wounds,” written by Kirstin Valdez Quade. It’s posted here. Aside from the distinction it was granted by being published in The New Yorker, I read some encouraging remarks on it yesterday. Plus, I just looked the story up online, and I found rave reviews, with people celebrating that there’s “not a word out of place” and sharing other ebullient comments. All of this foregrounded again a subject I had mentioned before, about the wide appeal of exotica in literature. An exoticized Latin culture has become a popular choice.Before we go on, yes, the story is finely built. It picks up momentum as it goes, as the story centers on its strength: a tortured, guilt-laced relationship between the main character (Amadeo Padilla) and his daughter (Angel). Amadeo is 33, Angel is going on 15—and eight months pregnant. Every family mentioned here is a mess, but Amadeo’s relationshi…