This collection was just the thing to take my mind off the horrid stress in my life. My sister says it works that if you start rereading them after you are finished it is like reading new stories. I needed to take my mind off the ugliness of life therefore, the possibilities of living and breathing stories was welcoming.
Some of the stories I have a firmer ground of certainty that I knew what happened while other stories in this collection are a fog over my mind. I realize some of the stories I read very liberally with my own personal sympathies and at other times quite possibly too literally.
Axolotl - This story is about a man who goes to an aquarium to observe the Mexican Salamanders, the Axolotl, daily. I found him something of a kindred spirit [even if I was more clownish at times pretending the polar bears in Berlin zoo called out for Knut], as I always ponder what the sea creatures are thinking. I imagine with the exception of Dudley Dursley types, there is something of him in all of us. I love how everything became full circle and he wondered if the man would write a story about them, the Axolotl, when he came one.
These little guys regenerate like Doctor Who.
House Taken Over - The siblings of this tale seemed rather detached from life. They were defeated at leaving the house in the end without a fight, much in the same way they approached their day to day living. They definitely had no fire underneath them. My theory for what took over the house is if literal, it was entailed by other relatives who moved in, or their own subconscious minds drove them out. For they ended up throwing away their own daily pleasures in the process, the couple of things they truly enjoyed doing such as knitting and reading.
The Distances and The Idol of the Cyclades were trickier for me. I often wondered if In the Distances, if Alina spoke of herself in third person to distance herself from the abuse she suffered.
The Idol of Cyclades, I'm sure I do not know a thing what happened. Was Somoza actually in love with Teresa, as Morand insisted? He seemed to possess all desire for the statue and no mind for people, except for the purpose of sacrificing Morand's blood. Morand seemed just as crazy as Somoza, but I feel I'm missing something. I'll need to reread this one.
Letter to a Young Lady in Paris This captured the feeling of total helplessness a socially awkward person feels. If that wasn't the total point of the story, that was the feelings it evoked in me. I hate being a guest in one's home and constantly having to worry about mis-stepping. Doesn't it seem odd that as a host you have to lay everything out for your guest, but when you are a guest it goes the total opposite? At least, that was how I was raised to view it.
I had a strict upbringing in that I was spanked for insurance I'd behave. A punishment for what I might do.
His apologies about the bunnies destruction read to me as a metaphor for putting your foot in your mouth or reacting wrong to a social cue.
His affection for the bunnies read as affection towards himself in those moments before we make a wrong move and feel crushing embarrassment.
It could also be read as a parents love for the kids but when they do something wrong to others you'd blame yourself. I don't have kids but when my dogs act out at the dog park...
A Yellow Flower This story is about a narrator who meets an older gentlemen in a bar whose the only one willing to give a chance to this man's tale.
This guy is convinced he's seen his younger self on a train and inserts himself into his life to prove his theory. I'd love to read an alternate version of the poor kids life of being followed by a man convinced he's the older version of himself. [This did happen in an episode of New Girl, the only good episode featuring that character.] The equal despair at not wanting someone else to lead his painful existence, and the equal sorrow of his own morality over never seeing gorgeous yellow flowers was incredibly moving. At those darkest moments in life, it is often the pull of the beauty of life that would make me want to choose immortality. The imbecilic life [if you can argue that it even was] made worth it by those moments of beauty. It is absolutely what makes all lives meaningful despite how horrendous it might be in its monotony.
I read the ending as the narrator was disgusted, "I paid the bill", as perfect. Faced with anothers undiluted emotions, especially of a drunkard, could be off=putting in person. Now, the drug addicted ramblings in The Pursuer was another matter entirely. The narrator of this story seemed the type who wasn’t chasing these insights and losing them like the Jazz critic.
Continuity of Parks This was a spooky story about a man who discovers the “cozy” murder he is reading is about him. Well, he doesn’t discover so much but it happens upon him. There isn’t really anything cozy about murder. As I’m not a fan of that genre, I did appreciate this take on it. I had that wicked let’s poke of velvet armchairs cozy murders but related to wanting to lose myself in a book for a while.
The Night Face Up- is about a man who is in a motorbike accident but has flashbacks of being a Moteca. The descriptions of being in the hospital were beautifully crafted. This story didn’t patch as much emotional feeling for me as some of the others did. I don’t know if I’ll carry it around inside me the same way as The Pursuers or Letter to a Young Lady in Paris. I enjoyed the feeling of being out of step in time, stuck between two worlds. It was very dream-like and poetic. I love how so many different styles and meaning can be read in these stories. They all do different things to my mind or my emotions.
Bestiary - I just loved this story! It was quite tense with the tiger who lives in the house. Isabel is to spend the summer at her Aunt Rema and Uncle Luis’ house for the summer. She’s to be the companion of her cousin Nino. The Kid is one of those awful people you wonder why anyone keeps around. It is never fully explained his purpose there but he’s a menace. The spoken terror is the Tiger, but it is the Kid everyone really lives with in the way the tiger is scouted by the servants so everyone can avoid him. The scene with the lemonade was especially creepy given the early signs of his abuse to the household. The violence towards Nino literal, the emotional abuse of Rena overlaid with imagery about her hands in the ant jar.
The Gates of Heaven - This story is a touching love story of appreciating people for who they really were and understanding them. Marcelo’s tale is about his friendship with Mauro and Celina and the death of Celina. It was his insight into that part of Celina’s personality that allowed their relationship to flourish. Celina needed that wild side of herself that her husband didn’t see. It captured that essence of how someone can not know a person and another person can see inside them. The ending, where he sees Celina in heaven, but Mauro only seeing a look-alike was unbelievably breathtaking. It was equally captivating in love for someone wholly themselves not needing anything in return, but also the selfish side of love on Mauro’s part he did not. Celina was the unselfish one in their relationship. She was finally able to dance with pure abandon and joy. She wasn’t dancing as a paid dancer harassed by patrons, but for herself only. This story was purely uplifting despite the undertones of sadness of losing someone you love.
Blow-Up The narrator is a photographer and a people watcher. If you are also a people watcher, you’ll recognize the feeling of making up scenarios of others interactions. He takes it a step further and inserts himself in the situation. An older lady is aggressively pursuing a young lad, whose on the fence of running away or buying her for a night. I read the situation as the lady was a prostitute , but I suppose with the presence of the gentlemen, they could be conmen or after the boy himself to murder. I felt the photographer’s discomfort the boy he was watching. They catch him when he takes a photograph, so nothing happens. This is where things get tricky. Did he feel upset he stepped in and the story didn’t get the ending? So he imagined the nefarious deeds and danger on the poor boy? Or was fate determined this kid be a victim despite his involvement by taking a photograph. A third possibility still, the events were captured in the photograph as if he never interrupted. My mind is working on these just as our narrator fretted when he viewed the interactions of the lady hitting on the kid.
End of the Game This story is about three sisters who engage in a game called Statues. The game sounds rather fun. Letita, the eldest has a disability, though we are never told what it is. She has a status as a result within the family, but for the most part the other two amiably go along with it. The little resentment scattered between their well-intentioned concerns this is actually bad to let her have her way was quite insightful.
I loved Holanda and our narrator. They start receiving letters thrown off the train from an admirer. It becomes quickly clear he is only interested in Letitia. Quite tragically, she’s torn between the thrill of discovering attention and having it ruined by her disability. The letter “The prettiest is the laziest” had an amusing reaction by the sisters. I absolutely adored this characterization: “The first judicial opinion it occurred to us to hand down was that Ariel was an idiot, but we couldn’t tell Letitia that, poor angel, with the disadvantage she had to put up with. “
It is difficult enough telling your friends someone they crush on Is behaving wretchedly without coddling. This story correctly captured watching the blossoming of love from the side-lines. How much do you interfere and what can you really say? I loved these girls and their creative little games and antics.
At Your Service
Francinet, our narrator, is elderly and fallen on hard times. She finds it difficult to navigate being treated an inferior in her own home which smells of cat piss, thanks to her cat. She’s offered a job as maid on recommendation from her doctor. However, Lady Rosay, was not forthcoming about the details of her duties. She has to spend the dinner party attending to six dogs. You get her sense of relief when someone pays her a kindness, albeit he was just drunk when he did so. It’s amazing how someone’s kindness can feel when everyone in your life is treating you an inferior. When he’s the man she’s paid to pretend to be a grieving mother for she finds she doesn’t have to act. The same family who hired her to hold the dogs hired her to be this man’s mother. The narrator doesn’t question why she’s paid so handsomely for this task but is assured it is not illegal. There is an undercurrent there that something was not right at all. But, we didn’t need to know, since it was good that someone cared about Bebe in turn to reward the kindness he paid for her at the party by grieving him.
The Pursuer - This one often read like one of those deep and meaningful late-night conversations with friends you can’t remember later or a dream that answers everything but then you wake-up. The memory of everything Johnny says evaporates after he’s left him. Cortazar describes what anyone feels about those creative but self-destructive people everyone admires.
“I envy Johnny and at the same time I get sore as hell watching him destroy himself, misusing his gifts, and the stupid accumulation of nonsense the pressure of his life requires. I think that if Johnny could straighten out his life, not even sacrificing heroin, if he could pilot that plane better, maybe he’d end up worse, maybe go crazy altogether, or die, but not without having played it to the depth, what he’s looking for in those sad a posteriori monologues, in his retelling of great, fascinating experiences which, however, stop right there, in the middle of the road. And all this I back up with my own cowardice, and maybe basically I want Johnny to wind up all at once like a nova that explodes into a thousand pieces and turns astronomers into idiots for a whole week, and then one can go off to sleep and tomorrow is another day.”
We may not benefit personally from our favourite artists pain and suffering but on the whole, they feel something maybe we can’t quite touch or get at the way the Johnny’s of the world do. Or because they can put it into words and make us not feel alone. He mutually benefits and despairs at Johnny’s destruction and is quite fascinating in his own right. Secret Weapons I’m unsure if I want to take this as Pierre an innocent victim of being reminded of others past crimes, or if his brutality at the attempted rape meant he deserved what came to him. I was disgusted with both Pierre and Michelle. Why date him at all? Or was he the Nazi rapist and had come back to get his revenge? His actions towards the dog showed he was a flawed individual despite his desire to “know” Michelle through sex. This was absolutely a story about obsession and desire on Pierre’s end, perhaps subconsciously he was reaching so far out to know her he was able to dream her repressed memories.