Posts filed under 'short fiction'

“The Neighbor” by Marie Darrieussecq

"The guitar playing and the shrieks were bad enough. But then they had a piano delivered."

‚The original version of “The Neighbor” was published in the author’s collection, Zoo, copyright 2006 by Editions P.O.L.

***

At the Dakota, my life was peaceful.

I had inherited the apartment from my father’s sister, along with a modest sum of money.  Living at the Dakota carries with it certain obligations.  When the co-op decides, for example, to renovate the basement, you’d better be able to pay your share.

Until then, I had always lived with my mother in a little village in the west of France.  I was a furniture maker, I had my own workshop, and everything was going well.  I’d led an idyllic childhood with my widowed mother, and I would have been satisfied to continue just as I was.  My mother admired my work, above all the delicately inlaid little chests.  The prospect of my leaving made her very angry.  She used to hate her American sister-in-law.

But I couldn’t resist the lure of the Dakota.  My aunt’s death literally changed my life.  I gave up my work and crossed the Atlantic, and my main activity ever since has consisted of living at the Dakota. READ MORE…

The Uncanny Listener… (Part 2)

More stories from the shadows, featuring Franz Kafka, Yoko Ogawa, Dean Paschal and Mansoura Ez-Eldin.

The Uncanny Listener: Stories from the Shadows (Part 2)

We’re back with a second portion of scary stories! Following on from last month’s episode, part two of our audio anthology ventures even further into the dark and dingy corners of world literature. This installment features haunting tales from Japan, Egypt, America, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with writing by Franz Kafka, Yoko Ogawa, Dean Paschal, and Mansoura Ez-Eldin. Along the way you’ll find a hallucinatory giant, a doll with a mind of its own, a hideously disfigured carrot, and the Statue of Liberty as you’ve never seen her before. Plus there’s a conversation with cultural critic Adam Kotsko about the epidemic of creepiness on our TV screens, from Happy Days to Mad Men to the Burger King commercials. Join us as we continue exploring the questions: What is the uncanny? And why do we enjoy it so much?

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The Uncanny Listener: Stories from the Shadows (Part 1)

Our newest podcast episode features creepy stories by Bruno Schulz, Ambrose Bierce, John Herdman and Felisberto Hernandez.

The Uncanny Listener: Stories from the Shadows (Part 1)

What exactly is “the uncanny“? We’ve all felt the sensation of a bloodcurdling shiver running down our spines, but when it comes to describing what that means or what caused it, we’re often left with nothing but: “it was just . . . creepy.”

In the latest episode of the Asymptote Podcast, we explore the mysterious and alluring phenomenon of getting the creeps, through the words of some of the best scary-storytellers in world literature. The Uncanny Listener: Stories from the Shadows is a chilling collage of readings that reveal the strangeness of what’s familiar and the familiarity of what’s strange. READ MORE…

Close All Tabs But This One—Alejandro Zambra’s “My Documents” in Review

If you read the review all the way to the end, you'll win a prize (I'm serious). But I don't need to cajole you into finishing the book.

Alejandro Zambra deserves his very own sentence (so here it is).

I’ve come across far too many breathy, overeager reviews that are downright giddy to liken Zambra—Chilean writer, very of-the-moment—with someone entirely different. Predictably, Zambra’s equally hip literary/national compatriot Roberto Bolaño is at the tip of everyone’s tongue. And then there are other authors, nearly all of them translated—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Daniel Kehlmann, Elena Ferrante, Ben Lerner—who are inevitably mentioned in the same breathless swoop. It’s true that these writers are at-least-obliquely occupied with Zambra’s brand of hyper-real, genre-eliding, syntactically all-too-acute, auto-fictive and/or meta-fictive literary fiction, but there’s something decidedly pungent—and utterly unique—about Alejandro Zambra’s particular kind of fiction.

Did you count the hyphenations I needed to describe Zambra’s writing? There were eight of them. They’re intentional—as Zambra’s work, too, doubles, triples, even quadruples multiple intensities at once, though without the agglutinative slog that sentence carried (I am so sorry, dear reader). Zambra’s fiction occasions a rather hefty sleight of hand.

This is true, even with his latest publication—My Documents, translated by (Asymptote’s own former team member!) Megan McDowell and published by McSweeney’s this month. It’s his longest in English to date, and still a mere 240 pages long. I read it in a single sitting, but like I mentioned in this month’s What We’re Reading, I’ve kept chewing for weeks to follow.  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Myths of the Nivaklé

Three unsettling myths of an indigenous tribe of Paraguay, translated by Elisa Taber

The Nivaklé are an indigenous tribe of the Gran Chaco, a sparsely populated region of Paraguay referred to as “the green hell.” These stories pertain to ethnographic statements by indigenous informants, compiled by the anthropologist Miguel Chase Sardi. Masking cultural identity is a recurring theme in this polyglot society’s mythology. Enacting submission to preserve agency seems contradictory. However, the narrative devices employed render a convincing mode of defying assimilation. By translating the informant’s statements I attempt to extract the narrative potential of these myths, in addition to making the work intelligible in English.

The Unfurrowing of Birds

We treat them like lepers because their mother became a savage. Collecting parrot eggs with her husband incited the change. Something shifted as he hacked a hole in the trunk and extracted the parrot’s nest within.

“Catch them,” he called down as he dropped a frail egg. His wife caught it. Instead of placing it in the basket, the woman broke the shell and consumed the chick. She swallowed the following one whole.

The nest was nearly empty. Her husband peered down and discovered that so was the nest. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “The First” by Mariana Graciano

Short fiction translated by Kadiri Vaquer

 An unpredictable cloud of smoke forced him to move around constantly. He had nowhere to stand to avoid it. That day, grandpa mentioned how every January 1st, the wind blew in all four directions. The rest of the family watched him start the fire for the barbecue and his theory, once again, was proven.

It was a thick and humid beginning of the year. After eating, the family rested under the ombu tree like animals waiting for the storm. When the sky turned black, the women hurried to take everything inside: cups, chairs and the clothes hanging on the line.  Then it began to rain, just like that, a curtain of water, hard and even. READ MORE…

Interviewing Naja Marie Aidt

Eric M. B. Becker in conversation with the author of Baboon, a short story collection published by Two Lines Press

The first full-length work by Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt—born in 1963 in Greenland, raised in Copenhagen, and currently living in New York City—is now available in English with the translation of her short story collection Baboon, which earned her the biggest literary prize in Scandinavia, the 2008 Nordic Council Literature Prize, and is being published this month by Two Lines Press in a sharp translation from Denise Newman.

Aidt’s writing includes nine books of poetry, short stories, radio plays, plays, films scripts, and children’s books, and her work has been translated into Italian, German, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Latvian, Icelandic, and Czech. Her literary career began in 1991 with the poetry collection længe jeg er ung (“As Long As I Am Young”), part one of a trilogy she completed in 1994 and which, like Baboon, plumbs the depths of relationships with family and friends. Baboon is her third short story collection.

Although her subject matter with these new stories is quotidian, Aidt’s characters and their fates are anything but: After their son is tossed from a bike and injured, a husband decides there is no better time to reveal to his wife details of his affair with her sister; a well-meaning couple, forgetting to place a bag of candy in their supermarket basket, find themselves charged with theft above their assiduous protests.

In our conversation via email, shortly after the author’s return to New York from a reading tour in Denmark, we discussed the importance of place in Aidt’s fiction and her ability to recast the familiar as strange, as she puts it, to turn “frustration and sadness into a new possibility, a new freedom,” creating the impression that one is seeing with new eyes. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Beyond the Point” by Caio Fernando Abreu

Distinct and powerful short fiction from Brazil, translated by Elisa Wouk Almino

It rained, rained, rained and I went on inside the rain to meet him, without an umbrella or anything, I always lost them all at the bars, I only carried a bottle of cheap cognac pressed against the chest, it seems insincere said this way, but it was how I went through the rain, a bottle of cognac in hand and a bundle of wet cigarettes in my pocket. There was one point when I could have taken a taxi, but it wasn’t very far, and if I took a taxi I wouldn’t be able to buy cigarettes or cognac, and I thought firmly that it would be better to arrive wet from the rain, because that way we would drink the cognac, it was cold, not that cold, it was more the humidity entering through the fabric of clothes, through the thin, worn soles of shoes, and we’d smoke drink without limits, there’d be music, always those hoarse voices, that moaning sax and his eye set upon me, warm shower distending my muscles. But it still rained, my eyes stinging from the cold, my nose began to run, I would clean it with the backs of my hands and the liquid from my nose would harden instantly over the hairs, I’d tuck my reddened hands into the depths of my pockets and I would keep going, keep going and jumping the puddles of water with frozen legs. So frozen were my legs and arms and face that I thought of opening the bottle to take a sip, but I didn’t want to arrive at his house half-drunk, with bad breath, I didn’t want him thinking I had been drinking, and I had, every day a good pretext, and I also went on thinking that he’d think I had no money, arriving by foot in all that rain, and I had none, my stomach hurting with hunger, and I didn’t want him thinking I had been walking like an insomniac, and I had, purple bags under my eyes, I would have to be careful with my lower lip when smiling, if I smiled, and I almost certainly would, when I met him, so that he wouldn’t see the broken tooth and think I had been slacking, not seeing a dentist, and I had, and everything I was doing and being I didn’t want him to see or know, but after thinking this it brought me grief because I went on realizing realizing, inside the rain, that maybe I didn’t want him to know that I was me, and I was. Something confusing started to happen inside my head, this idea of I not wanting him to know that I was me, drenched in all that rain that fell, fell, fell and I had the urge to return to some place dry and warm, if there was such a place, and I didn’t remember any, or to stop forever right there on that gray corner that I attempted to cross without being able to, the cars throwing water and mud at me as they passed, but I couldn’t, or I could but shouldn’t, or I could but didn’t want to or no longer knew how one stops or goes back, I had to continue going to meet him, who would open the door for me, the moaning sax in the background and who knows a fireplace, pine nuts, warm wine with cloves and cinnamon, those winter things, and even more, I needed to avert my desire to go back or stay in place, for there is a point, I discovered, in which you lose control of your own legs, it’s not really like that, a torturous discovery that the cold and the rain wouldn’t let me chew properly, I merely began to know that there is a point, and I, divided, wanting to see what was after the point and also the pleasure of him waiting for me warm and ready.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Jails Take to the Streets” by Carmen Boullosa

Fresh fiction by Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa, translated by Kristina Zdravič Reardon

Featuring a kidnapping, a prison, a drug lord, an inmate called the Inmate-Prince, and a prostitution network, Carmen Boullosa suggests through stark satire in this story that truth is, indeed, stranger—and more complex—than fiction. At the same time, she addresses the narrative gaps between truth and fiction head-on with four levels of meta-narrative.

To begin, she writes that this piece is “a conversation between a film producer (John Grandcaca), a multi-award-winning Mexican writer (Julio de la X), and the assistant producer, with a moralizing note from the author.” At once, we see four levels of narration: the writer’s script, the summary of the script from the assistant producer, the commentary on the summary of the script from the producer to the writer, and the commentary from the fictional stand-in for Boullosa. Yet the narrative proves even wilder than the layers might at first suggest.

Mexico released official crime rate statistics from the last several years this spring. While some claim the statistics are dubious, the publication highlights a high number of kidnappings, extortions, and thefts across the country. Boullosa draws attention to these through dark humor here, and in doing so, forces the reader to reflect on the gaps between truth and fiction and how we, as readers, navigate that divide.

—Kristina Zdravič Reardon

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Translation Tuesday: “The Imaginary Pet,” “On Dragons”

Surreal tales from Mexican author Cecilia Eudave, translated by criticism editor Ellen Jones

The Imaginary Pet

As I was drinking my tea and noting the unique colour of the jacaranda tree, I was struck suddenly by a sad, painful memory: my first pet. She wasn’t cruel or aggressive, quite the opposite, she was a sweet creature, delicate and extremely intelligent (she taught me to read), with a slender body the colour of a jacaranda, so skinny she could have passed for a bookmark. She was my best friend, she went with me everywhere, slept in my bed, came out with me in my bag, played games with me, sang me to sleep. She always kept watch over my dreams, and with her by my side no nightmare ever dared enter my head.

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Translation Tuesday: The Unavoidable Weight of Pigeons

"…he hated the pigeons; but he hated most the lovers of the pigeons; and especially the lovers of the pigeons of Notre Dame." – Carlos Yushimito

Some nights the pigeons made noises, and Mitsuo—an imaginative man, always willing to see things in a favorable light—wondered, as he got out of his bed, if it wasn’t the cold that ruffled them up, if that wasn’t their way, by nature, of keeping warm, rubbing their chins against their gizzards, searching for the winding sound that curled their craw and let them escape, all at once, whenever he approached them, through the window bars. Because as soon as he moved across the bed, the flapping of their wings began to make a mess of his clutter; and he, with his own involuntary movements, alarmed them, and they flew away.

Once, even, a porcelain cup had fallen onto the floor, creating a small catastrophe.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Port” by Llucia Ramis Laloux

Flies, crashes, and playing house: growing up is a disturbing process in Llucia Ramis's new Catalan-language story

One

I remember a hedgehog devoured by ants; we found it near the house and wanted to feed it milk from the tetra-brik carton. It was dead by morning. I remember my brother wanted to taste an ant because the Chinese eat them, so he put it in his mouth while it was still alive and spit it out because it stung. I remember my cousin pulled out a dock tire at the pier and that a crab jumped out, she got scared and let go and it crushed the crab, it pushed the guts right out through its mouth, sprtz. Afterward we hurled the body into the water and it floated. I remember the time I picked up a log and pinched a lizard hiding underneath; I could swear it cried out. We spent some time observing that detached tail, my cousin, brother, and I.

I don’t come here often and these memories have nothing to do with nostalgia.

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