I am very grateful to NYRB Classics for introducing me to the stories of Silvina Ocampo, an Argentine writer from the mid-20th century. There is a childlike sense of mischief and wickedness which runs through several of Ocampo’s pieces, especially those from the 1950s and ‘60s. This particular story features a woman who is having a dress made-to-measure, a velvet gown featuring a dragon motif embroidered with sequins. In writing this tale, Ocampo is playing with the dual nature of velvet, a fabric that feels smooth when rubbed one way and rough the other, something that has the power to repel as well as attract. Without wishing to give too much away, this brief but highly effective tale takes a rather sinister turn as it moves towards its conclusion. Perfect reading for Halloween or a stormy night in the middle of winter.
First published in The Fury, 1959. Collected in Thus Were Their Faces, New York Review Books 2015.
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
“Suspicion kept Cristina from living.” Involvement is a word with a somewhat different meaning in relation to this bleak beauty, in which a man (I think) recalls the story of his true love’s curious attitude to life, the house they buy together, the little lie he tells in order to avoid upsetting her, the consequences of that lie . . . . Luck plays a part in this story. As it does in:
From Thus Were Their Faces, New York Review Books