Set during the sweaty Southern Cone summer months, you’ll never experience a “happy couples’ holiday” with your beloved partner in quite the same way again after reading this! I love the slow build-up of tension and dread in this story, the strangeness of its details (like the disappearing fire glimpsed from an airplane), the A.M. Homes-esque brutality of the narrator towards her irritating husband, and the totally out-of-left-field (yet completely perfect) ending. You can’t have a story about disappearances set in the Río Plata area not seem like a commentary on historical atrocities, but the sly way this piece develops and builds upon this theme, in a way you wouldn’t expect, is utterly singular. I suggest reading this with a caipirinha in hand, bugs crawling over your feet, and plenty of sickly-smelling sunscreen burning your eyes.
Here is a Latin American short story anthology – all hail all translators everywhere, especially those who made these stories available in English!
Why oh why has Werner Herzog not made a film about Horacio Quiroga yet? The themes of his stories demand it: madness, the jungle, nature, civilization, barbarity, snakebites, parasites growing fat on the blood of young brides, indifferent animals watching humans die, ranting and raving, in the brutal afternoon sun. And let’s not get started on Quiroga’s lifestory, which involves his father’s accidental death via shotgun, three marriages, accidentally killing his best friend, an obsession with girls decades years younger than him, a close friendship with poet and future fascist Leopoldo Lugones, his wife’s suicide (poison), and his own (poison again). You might say he puts the Poe in the Poe-esque. I think my favorite story of his is ‘Sunstroke’, narrated from the point of view of a pack of dogs.
In The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories, University of Texas Press, 2013
Samantha Schweblin has been one of my favorite short story writers for years, so it’s been thrilling to see her gain so much international notoriety recently, with her Man Booker International Prize-nominated novel, Fever Dream. I highly encourage you to seek out her translated short fiction, available online in places like the New Yorker, Granta, and Words Without Borders. Her themes include children, adulthood, fertility, consumerism, and environmental illnesses. I had to go with ‘Birds in the Mouth’ as my favorite, due to its relentless exploration of a young’s girl’s appetite (is there anything scarier to society than a young girl who knows exactly what she wants, and unceasingly pursues it?), and its central question: “what it would feel like to swallow something warm and moving, to have something full of feathers and feet in your mouth.”
Available to read online here. First published in Pájaros en la boca y otros cuentos. Editorial Lumen, 2010
I love this story for its eerie and mesmerizing evocation of the “we” perspective. I can’t help but wonder how well this group of girls would fall into line under a military dictatorship. And I can’t decide if the ending is sexy or scary – a cathartic gathering of empowered witches, or the terrifying rise of groupthink. I also highly recommend the anthology it’s included in, as a wonderful introduction to contemporary short Latin American fiction.
Included in The Future is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction, Open Letter, 2012. Read a different translation by Meruane in collaboration with Ronald Christ online here
What a talent Colanzi is! Her collection Our Dead World was published last year and deserves more attention. The story I’ve chosen for this list, ‘Alfredito’, combines three of my primary obsessions: death, childhood, and UFO kidnappings.
In Our Dead World, Central Books, 2017. Available to read online in in a translation by Chris Meade here
If you’re a fan of Borges and Cortázar, reading Ocampo is a must. Clarice Lispector and Leonora Carrington buffs, bow down – Silvina is the queen! Her stories often involve creepy children being tortured or torturing. Dreamlike, nightmarish, hallucinatory, prose poems, just plain weird – all these adjectives are acceptable. My personal favorite from her recently translated collection is “Men Animal Vines,” another appropriately Herzogian piece. A man is the sole survivor of a plane crash and must survive in the jungle as vines threaten to consume everything in reach. And that final sentence! Talk about a twist that makes you look up from the page with a frown on your face and say, … what? But then you start to smile as you say: … Whoa!
in Thus Were Their Faces, NYRB Classics, 2016