Short story collection [Seleccion de cuentos]
I read The secret weapons a few months ago and I remember being impressed by how good it was and how easy I fell under its spell – so of course I came back to Mr. Cortazar as soon as the opportunity presented itself. On the back cover of this book there’s a quote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez saying that this is the kind of writer he’d wished to become – and not much praise can top this.
This is a collection of short stories picked up from several volumes, and for me, the one word to describe almost all of them would be eerie. In Cortazar’s world, the supernatural doesn’t really come announced; it’s just there – in a reaction you can’t explain, a mysterious something that drives the character’s actions (maybe loss, or fear) – a bit like a dream (or rather a nightmare). It’s shifty and unreliable – and I completely embrace the feeling. In fact, it may not even be supernatural but the mystery surrounding it all makes it feel that way.
There are a couple of stories which really stuck in my head and I think they set the tone for most of the book. First there’s Casa tomada where an old brother & sister live solitary, yet orderly lives. Slowly, they retreat in smaller and smaller corners of their house, until one night all they have left is the entrance hall and the clothes on their backs – claiming that the rest had been “taken” – by unknown entities, as far as we are concerned. This, I guess, most feels like a nightmare – being hunted out of your comfort zone by something unknown and thus doubly fearsome.
Another story that stands out to me is La Noche Boca Arriba, with its abrupt and very effective shift of expectation. We have a man laying in a hospital bed after a motorcycle accident, immobilized and dreaming of Aztecs preparing him for sacrifice atop a pyramid (Apocalypto flashback :D). And the suddenly, we realize, alongside him, that the motorcycle (a device he can’t name) was the dream – and a very comforting one, at that – since he is really offering to the gods. It feels like a literal example of how reality and dream are easily interchangeable planes (Continuidad de los Parques follows on this, too).
And there really are more great stories (sure, others not-so-great) but I’d rather not to recaps for all. My personal highlights would be Circe, Después del Almuerzo, Axolot or Regarding the Eradication of Crocodiles from Auvergne (funnily enough, I couldn’t find the Spanish title for this). The devil’s drooling and Letters from mom are also included here, but I’ve written of them before.
In the end, mr. Cortazar is to be discovered – and experienced – first hand 🙂
This was a bit of a hurried review, now I really have to go packing, my plane leaves in a few hours….