After the blast of Puenzo’s opening story, I have to say the next several selections in Granta 113 felt fairly negligible. I drafted part of a paragraph going through the next four stories one by one and explaining what I didn’t like, but I think it suffices to say I found them a bit perfect and dull in the way short stories can fall into. The exception is Andrés Barba’s “The Coming Flood,” which takes on the perspective of a declining porn star hooked on plastic surgery. It is written with an on-and-off quasi-stream-of-consciousness, and the perspective it offers on the protagonist’s way of thinking seems to me to slip into an easy condescension. I felt like I was listening to someone highly religious talking on sanctimoniously about how sex corrodes your soul and pointing to someone dying on the street as proof of a comeuppance rather than really trying to understand that person’s situation. It seems absurd to think anyone would be publishing a story with this perspective in 2010, so maybe something about the tone was lost in translation or in my reading.
Things take a turn back to the genuinely engaging with Pola Oloixarac’s “Conditions for the Revolution.” I won’t say this story is completely successful: I read it twice and in the second half both times I felt like the momentum evaporated. Briefly, the story is set in a present moment of political unrest in Buenos Aires with intermittent memories of the political unrest of the previous generation, and it focuses on a young woman named Mara, her mother Cris (an activist from the era of Perón’s rise), and people close to them.
Despite my reservations about the ending, the story is a worthwhile read: what is most satisfying is the way it uses humor to tease apart the complicated interweaving of political struggles and sexual relationships in an era where the traumas of past political struggles still burn some, stir others with nostalgia, serve as a sexual pretext for others, and invoke imprecise comparisons to the present that no one can help making but that never seem quite right. In this context, Cris’s just-tolerated boyfriend Quique imagines himself ideally positioned for sexual conquest:
In exile, Quique had discovered that the traumatic arithmetic that melded a past and a moustache could function as proof of a set of privileged experiences, as shared as they were private, in the light of whose mysterious shadow the true socialist homeland would always exist, in the hearts of comrades and lovers, as stated in Walt Whitman’s dedication to his readers in Leaves of Grass.
Quique has found that he can use politics as a pretext for sex—Whitman is more a useable slogan to him than a real passion. But Oloixarac doesn’t take that as an opportunity to dismiss political investments in general; Cris sees Quique as a bit of a fool that she lets hang around her. Politics do not seem to have gone wrong in this story because people just use it as a pretext for sex; instead, radical action just seems to be failing for reasons people can’t quite grapple with (there is a protest beginning in the story, but it seems purposeless and doomed despite the passion), and politics saturates the air so much that it inevitably serves to contextualize people’s thoughts on their relationships.
The next story, Javier Montes’s “The Hotel Life,” is an excerpt from a yet-to-be-finished novel: I think I’ll want to read it, although the story works well on its own and I’m a little afraid the novel might end up not matching the escalating weirdness of this part on its own. The narrator is a hotel reviewer who takes a job in a hotel in his home city, which he normally wouldn’t do. I think it might be something about the constant movement of his job mixed with its repetitiveness that shapes the tone of the story: it somehow has much more realistic detail than Paul Auster’s City of Glass while also maintaining a similar feeling of eerie abstraction for most of its length. The last few pages are simply appalling—and I mean that as a compliment, so I won’t spoil anything.
The last story of this bunch is “Gigantomachy,” by Pablo Gutiérrez, and it features the narration of a basketball player who views his size in part with pride, waxing nostalgic about his abilities on the court, and in part with frustration with it as a near disability and a destructive force. His fraught state comes from an unclearly revealed accident (or maybe it wasn’t an accident) that has made him into a media pariah. I haven’t entirely decided what I think of it. The stream-of-consciousness does a nice job of running the gamut of emotions, all of which seem to be substituting for the one emotion he doesn’t take on. Really I should like this more than I do, but I just sort of sigh whenever I start reading a story featuring sports. So ignore my reticence and read the story for yourself.
On a related note, since my last post By the Firelight has a discussion of Texas Tech’s Americas Series, which includes a novel by Lucía Puenzo titled The Fish Child. Amazon doesn’t have a description, but you can read one on the press’s site. It looks fascinating and I look forward to reading it.