Quote #19: Axolotl, by Julio Cortázar

There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl.

– Axolotl, by Julio Cortázar (from Las Armas Secretas / The Secret Weapons)

 

Cortázar’s stories are just the stuff you need if you want your brain flipped sideways. The story “Axolotl” (you can read it here) is from the 1956 Spanish-language collection called Final del Juego. I read it in French in a book called Les Armes Secrètes, which collects 11 stories instead of the 5 in the original Las Armas Secretas. In English, it seems to be included in the collection Blow-Up and Other Stories, which gather yet a different selection. Jesus, foreign publishers, why mess with a good thing? Go figure. Anyway, pick up any of Cortázar’s books of stories, and teach your cortex the old back-flip.

 

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A FRANCO-IRISH HISTORY OF CRUELTY: an essay up at Threshold

I have a piece up at Threshold (a great resource for short story writers / lovers, by the way).

It’s a cross-reading of Kevin Barry’s ‘A Cruelty’ and Guy de Maupassant’s ‘Le Crime au Père Boniface’, two short stories that have stayed with me long after I read them, and that have plenty in common. Both feature men whose innocence make them ill-adapted to the world around them, and who’ll fall prey to their fellow men’s cruelty.

There’s some personal (hopefully) relevant anecdotes peppering the piece as well, so this really is a hybrid bit of writing. Hope you like it.

 

Depressing numbers for short story writers

This article by Chris Power in the Guardian looks at the so-called “renaissance of the short story” that article after article (often in the Guardian itself, ironically I would say if irony wasn’t such a quaint concept):

In 2017, almost 50% more short story collections were sold than in the previous year. It was the best year for short stories since 2010. Booksellers are reporting a surge in popularity for the form, commentators note publishers are buying more collections and issuing them with greater care and enthusiasm; in December the newcomer Kristen Roupenian cut five- and seven-figure deals in the UK and US after her New Yorker story “Cat Person” went viral. 

Alright, sounds great, but Power takes a closer look:

if we aren’t living through a renaissance of the short story, how to explain those booming sales figures? Let’s break them down. Collections by Tom Hanks, one of the world’s biggest film stars, and Jojo Moyes, one of its bestselling authors, represent 22% of that total: £1.3m in sales.

Have a good day.

Quote #18: Charles Baxter

“Daddy?” He feels his elbow being picked at. “Daddy!” His daughter is holding her clarinet as if she is about to hit him with it. Behind her brown-rimmed glasses her eyes are fierce. She looks like a twelve-year-old district attorney with a good case and witnesses. “I was going to practice,” she says.

from “Prowlers”, in A Relative Stranger, by Charles Baxter

I love Charles Baxter. I love Charles Baxter. He’s a master; his short stories are intense little nuclei of goodness. Not all like this previous sentence of mine. He’s good. He’s good – his stories radiate kindness. I can pick up pretty much any of his stories and within a couple of pages I’ll have stopped three or four times to ponder some brilliant, sneaky line.

A fanciful tribute to Horacio Quiroga in Nightscript

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The third volume of the annual anthology Nightscript came out recently, and it includes a dark tale of mine titled “Homeward bound now, Paulino”

The story was inspired by, and is a sequel of sorts to,  “Adrift” (which you can read here – a short read, about a thousand words, I think), probably the best known short story by Urugayan writer Horacio Quiroga. Quite loosely, I should say. And maybe it is a little presumptuous to write a sequel that runs two or three times longer than the original story by a classic writer, but hey.

I first came across Quiroga when I studied his stories in college, then got reacquainted with his work during a trip through South America. I visited his home in northern Argentina, getting drenched to the bone walking there on a red clay-like dirt road to visit the place not many tourists seemed to patronise.

His work is worth checking out, and his life, full of dark, messed-up episodes, might yet prompt me to write more around him. And of course, Nightscript is more than worth checking out, with over twenty dark tales by great writers working that seam of weird ore.

[And for those of you who write in that same tunnel, Nightscript editor C.M. Muller will be opening to submissions for the next volume in January 2018]

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Quote #17 – Albert Londres, reporter

I’ve recently discovered Albert Londres (1884-1932), a globe-trotting French journalist who seems a bit like a real-world, earlier, more principled Tintin:

Misery is like any other State. Only those who live in it know it. Others don’t even think about it. And when sometimes they do talk about it, they do so as of a country they’ve never seen, that is to say that they only talk a lot of nonsense. 

This is from Les Chemins de Buenos Aires (the extract’s translation is mine), a book-length report on the apparently flourishing sex trafficking at the time (1927) between France and Argentina. In this often quite funny first-person account, Londres follows French pimps from Paris to Buenos Aires, tells of how they seduce or trick women into following them, how they cross the ocean and avoid the authorities, how they set them up in Argentina. It’s quite extraordinary to be transported to such a time and place (and milieu), to hear early 20th century pimps in their own words.

Other works of his that I plan on reading include Au bagne (on the French penal colony in Guyana), Chez les fous (an investigation of mistreatments in psychiatric institutions) as well as works on different subjects set in colonial Africa.

His books are translated in English, but I’m not sure how easily one could get his hands on one. But I’d recommend trying! Or if by any chance you read French, a good few of his works are available for free (Public Domain) on Wikisource.

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