Monday, May 16, 2011

Carlos Labbé, Federico Falco, Elvira Navarro

(I’m working my way through Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists. The previous installments are here and here. This post covers three stories from the next nine.)

With only five more stories left in Granta 113, I haven’t encountered anything I disliked as much as the Barba story, but only three more have really grabbed me, so I will focus on them.

The first is Carlos Labbé’s “The Girls Resembled Each Other in the Unfathomable,” which surprised me with my interest if for nothing else because the title is so bad I expected to groan myself all the way through. Labbé has one of the various excerpts from novels, and I have to say that it is the only one so far that makes me really curious to run out and buy the longer work (thank goodness the novel has a different title). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised it is translated by Natasha Wimmer, as it sits well alongside her work on Bolaño. I find it hard to even describe a plot at this point, beyond its evocation of spy/detective story and a hint of surrealism. The narrator is describing a sighting of two wanted criminals, the sister of one of them, and a congressman publicly believed dead. The surrealism comes from the blend of strange behavior of the four, some seemingly unlikely behavior on the part of the narrator, and the narrator’s ability to tell things he couldn’t possibly have witnessed without quite a lot of voyeuristic effort.

Immediately after that excerpt is Federico Falco’s “In Utah There Are Mountains Too,” which is a funny story about a teenage girl, Cuqui, who develops a crush on a Mormon missionary. It is a little unlike anything else in this volume and works because it is really in all a tender story that somehow manages not to come off as cloying and sentimental.

The last thing I’ve read is Elvira Navarro’s “Gerardo’s Letters”—it is another excerpt translated by Natasha Wimmer, but this is one that I think I would like to stop right where it ends. The narrator tells the story of her disintegrating relationship over the course of a hostel stay, and you get a nice feel for how sick the two are of one another while also being very sad about it. I think the narrator would be hard to follow for the course of a novel, but her internal ranting and euphoria lend nice color to details such as the description of some kids at the hostel and the “creepy gnome” who runs it. One nice line that gathers in the hostel experience and the relationship troubles: “The PC takes a while to start, and it’s so cold that I plug in the hairdryer and rest it on the edge of the keyboard as once again I curse Gerardo and at the same time feel sad because everything is full of his opinions, which have become my own.”

Finally, By the Firelight has just covered several Granta 113 stories. A few I’ve discussed here (by Barba, Montes, and Puenzo), one I haven’t gotten to yet (Shweblin), and another that I read in the set covered by this post but didn’t discuss above. This last is Alberto Olmos’s “Eva and Diego,” and while I didn’t love it, the story has a couple of great moments, such as when Eva realizes she has no memory of the building that has previously occupied a now-empty space in the city (now that I’m on it, I’m reminded of James Merrill’s poem “An Urban Convalescence”). This story is another of the excerpts from novels the editors chose in place of full stories, and I could see this fragment turning into an interesting longer work.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. The original title to the Labbe is Piezas secretas contra el mundo, or Secret Pieces Against the World. I don't know if the title helps.

    I've been looking forward to reading the Navarro. I've heard lots of good things about her. If only I wasn't so busy...

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