The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, and The Houseguest & Other Stories by Amparo Dávila

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The Invention of Morel is a classic of Latin American literature written by one of its premier writers of the 20th century. These are facts, yet I only heard of it for the first time within the past year, and indirectly while reading about Jorge Luis Borges. Its author, Adolfo Bioy Casares, was an equal to his lifelong friend and collaborator during their respective lifetimes, but while Borges’ influence has spread with fittingly labyrinthian pervasiveness over all of literature since his death, Casares’ has faded – at least in regard to English speaking audiences. I make this judgement after looking for other books by the very prolific Casares in print/translation, and the only titles other than Morel I am able to find are another short fantastical novel, Asleep in the Sun, a collection of stories, A Russian Doll & Other Stories, and an experimental murder mystery he co-wrote with Sylvina Ocampo (another widely respected writer in her lifetime whose work remains almost entirely untranslated into English), Where There’s Love, There’s Hate. Even his collaborations with Borges appear to have faded out of print.

Morel is an eerie, hypnotic, and wildly inventive novella that deserves to be read and discussed alongside the best of Borges’ stories. The New York Review Books edition even comes with a prologue by Borges expressing his admiration for the novella with absolutely no restraint. And that is the last time I will mention Casares’ legendary friend.

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Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enriquez was a unique reading experience. I distinctly recall being left somewhat disappointed by a number of the stories in this collection, especially the first few. They all would end with an explosion of nightmarish and violent imagery with complex supernatural elements, definitely following the end-with-a-bang mentality. And this endings would be a let down because Enriquez did such a good job building the atmosphere, sending the reader deeper into her characters’ nightmares, and you’d know that something horrifying was looming ever-closer. The endings just didn’t seem to add as much to the story as I had hoped, and took on the quality of a lot of shock and flash lacking substance. But at some point in the collection the complex themes and ideas of the stories started to align fantastically with the deeply disturbing imagery that Enriquez is so gifted at creating in every story.

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Facing the Bridge by Yoko Tawada

Let me say right off the bat that I absolutely loved Yoko Tawada’s gloriously strange and perverse novella The Bridegroom Was A Dog. I have some specific thoughts on Bridegroom stored somewhere that I will post sometime in the future.

With that out of the way, I can now say that I got nothing out of Facing the Bridge. The three stories that make up the collection are meandering and gratingly abstract. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I quite liked “The Shadow Man” in spite of it’s jarringly abrupt ending that felt as if Tawada ended it simply because she ran out of steam with the narrative. It follows Amo, a young African boy who is kidnapped and brought to Europe and takes refuge in literature and eventually becomes a scholar. In a parallel story line centuries in the future Tamao is a foreign exchange student living in Europe and struggling to find any connection to his new surroundings. Their circumstances are vastly different, but the ways they are forced to manipulate their personalities in order to live in places where they are both physical and cultural outsiders is fascinating. But while Amo both ages and intellectually matures in his part of the narrative, Tamao drifts aimlessly and nothing much happens to him.

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“Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick” (edited by Jonathan Lethem)

While technically the Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick  isn’t the first book of Dick’s I’ve read, that would be The Man in the High Castle around three years ago, it does allow me to feel as if I can properly cross him off of my literary blind spots. Not that I’ve read even a fraction of his work, the dude was damn prolific, but I have now read the stories that inspired arguably the two most famous adaptations of his work outside of Blade Runner. Those stories being “The Minority Report” which inspired a film and TV show both titled Minority Report, and “We Will Remember It For You Wholesale” which inspired two separate film adaptations, both titled Total Recall. 

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Philip K. Dick’s Humanoid Robots & Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons

Recently I’ve been reading the Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, edited by Jonathan Lethem. Dick has been a writer who has long been on my reading list. A few years ago I read The Man in the High Castle, but nothing sense.

For a writer as prolific as Dick was, it has been a challenge to decide on what to read first. I’ve been jumping between Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, and A Scanner Darkly, as well as couple of lesser known works that have received praise by writers I respect. But while Dick has many novels placed in the pantheon of SF fiction, his short stories have inspired equal, if not superior, amounts of fascination from Hollywood. Minority Report, Total Recall, The Adjustment Team, and Next are among the films spawned from Dick’s stories, and then there is the recent Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, an entire anthology show of Dick adaptations. Continue reading “Philip K. Dick’s Humanoid Robots & Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons”

Tender (Stories) by Sofia Samatar

Separated into two parts, “Tender Bodies” and “Tender Landscapes,” the first half of Sofia Samatar’s short story collection Tender is the strongest. Of the first ten of the twenty total stories, “Selkie Stories Are For Losers,” “Honey Bear,” and “How I Met The Ghoul” are the best, with the other seven have their own flashes of greatness.

“Selkie Stories” and “Honey Bear” take place in worlds much like our own. The former tells a touching coming of age story of friendship/romance and loneliness that is grounded in reality in all ways except the existence of Selkie’s, mythological creatures that take the form of women by shedding their skin, but return to their seal form once it is returned to them. In the latter, there is a sense of ominousness from the beginning: a mother, daughter, and father are on a road trip where everyone seems on edge. But the feeling could be explained away by marital problems, and health issues, and over-protection of their young daughter. But then there are checkpoints they must cross and the mother and daughter seem strangely elated by their dreary beach destination. And then a terrifying encounter on the beach reveals that the world the story is taking place in is nothing like our own. Samatar has written a monster story where the monsters are a constant reminder of innocence lost, and asks if the memories and love that remain are worth the inevitable horror. Continue reading “Tender (Stories) by Sofia Samatar”