Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Quim Monzo

Guadalajara
Quim Monzo
Translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush
Open Letter, 2011


Prospective readers of this book, should they be warned?  No, no.  More fun to say nothing.  Perhaps they will embarrass themselves, as I did, while reading “Family Life” in an upscale Tokyo caf√©.  When the nostalgic carpet of coziness it extends was – abruptly amputated -- I made a few high-pitched yipping noises and sat on my hands.

Short story collections are like pop albums – a few catchy numbers up front, then repeats or filler.  Guadalajara is no exception to this rule – except that the best stories are so marvelous they deserve to last forever.  There are, it seems to me, at least three great stories here: “Family Life”, “Centripetal Force” and “The Lives of the Prophets.”

These are stories that capture perfectly the way we live now.  As such, they deserve to become a sort of shorthand, like Kafka’s beetle.  I want all my friends to read these stories, so that all I’ll ever need to say is “today I felt like a fireman in Centripetal Force”.  I’d like to be able to just say “he’ll be turning nine soon” and watch everyone in the room shiver and fidget in their chairs. 

The other stories are clever and well-done – it’s just that the patterns that propel them may become so apparent that the stories seem only like brilliant exercises, the execution of an idea, with nothing real at stake. 

Then again, “The Lives of the Prophets” seemed at first the most pattern-bound of all – I could hardly bear to read it – until it spun around and surprised me.  The disappointment I felt when I guessed where some of the stories were headed – made me all the more delighted  to be wrong.     

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