Book Review: Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories (Gabriel García Márquez)

After reading and reviewing Márquez’s Strange Pilgrims it seemed fitting to return to some of his earlier stories. In my previous review I had, after all, written that ‘reading Márquez is like coming home’. I stand by that, but now I qualify it with the following amendment: ‘reading Márquez’s more recent stories is like coming home’. It’s not that this collection as a whole is bad, it’s just that Márquez seemed in general to have turned a corner (on this evidence alone) at around or about the start of his forties (being around or about the late 1960s/early 1970s).

Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories is largely comprised of stories from 1947-1953 (Márquez being, therefore, around 19-25 years old when having written them). These offerings, in places, are reminiscent — for this reader — of some of Kafka’s Meditations: their unnamed characters and settings, and their introspective focus, are not the precursors of Strange Pilgrims we might expect. The strapline on the Penguin Books copy of Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories (2007; first published 1972) states: ‘These stories abound with love affairs, ruined beauty, and magical women.’ This is inaccurate. These stories abound with perspectives on death.

In retrospect, it perhaps cannot come as any great surprise that the running order of the book is such as it is. The first piece, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother is a novella length story, but its date is more significant (1972). This is followed by the less successful The Sea of Lost Time (1961), and Death Constant Beyond Love (1970). Thereafter, the collection retreats to the late 40s and early 50s period of Márquez’s writing career. With the exception of the beautifully crafted Someone Has Been Disarranging These Flowers (1952), these nine stories can best be described as experiments along the way.

There are flourishes of things still to come in these offerings, but by and large the early Márquez had greater words and ideas still inside him. By the time he writes Innocent Eréndira we see a shift in capability start to unfold, as glimmerings of writerly hope have done in earlier pieces such as Someone Has Been Disarranging These Flowers and, to a lesser extent, the latter portion of Eyes of a Blue Dog (1950). The novella length work that is Innocent Eréndira is something Márquez is more adept at than the very short piece. He likes to unfold the story and there is engagement in this in the process. Márquez skilfully reveals the story and the characters: so much so that we forget that, actually, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother is a tale encompassing some sordid form of child abuse (Eréndira, the teenager, is subjected to prostitution by her grandmother as a means of ‘paying off the debt’ that Eréndira has brought upon herself in an accidental fire).

Márquez drops in moments of what he’s later seen to embody — magical realism — for example, Ulises (Eréndira’s young love interest) turns glass objects to different colours just by touching them. Having offered us this glimpse of something interesting, however, Márquez doesn’t then follow through with it: leaving it to fester in the background and leaving the reader wondering if it will reappear at some stage. It doesn’t. It’s just a throwaway line. It needed nurturing.

In contrast, Márquez does have a particular predilection in this collection for certain favourite words or motifs: the adjective ‘phosphorescent’ is repeated in various stories (as it also tends to turn up in Strange Pilgrims, if memory serves correctly); Márquez also has a penchant for the lone cricket, the sensory appeal of cement, and the death-imbued violet. Whilst these are not negative observations (aiding the connection of elements of a body of work), the English translation read here does suffer from the repeated and distracting use of such words as ‘lighted’ or ‘unlighted’, instead of ‘lit’ and ‘unlit’. Indeed, it is to the American English translation (from the original Spanish by Gregory Rabassa) that particular irritations are levelled when encountering such colloquialisms as: ‘Boy, you’re asking a mint’, ‘Don’t be a tightwad’, and ‘Then beat it . . . you lowlife!’ (The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother). I wonder how the original Spanish phrasing played itself out.

The translator, perhaps, may also be at fault (though I shalln’t know without further research) for the repeated inability to cope with certain grammatical structures: for example, in The Third Resignation (1947), Márquez is attributed with ‘He would have liked to catch the noise . . .’ It is, though, more for the early Márquez to straighten out the incomplete sentences that do tend to crop up in his writing, e.g. ‘Like all hard blows against nature’s firm things.’ (ibid).

Some of Márquez’s shorter, earlier stories get lost completely from early on. The Night of the Curlews (1953) is, frankly, unfathomable with its repeated use of ‘we’ and its uncertain characters and place (it is not a wise story on which to end a collection that started with Eréndira herself); some stories in this collection lose their way part-way through a struggling piece, e.g. Bitterness for Three Sleepwalkers (1949); some stories here show early promise but then go astray, such as in The Sea of Lost Time (1961), in which — presumably — the lead character retreats under the sea to swim with the dead.

Eyes of a Blue Dog (1950) could easily have had its first two and a half pages removed: being, as they are, littered with ‘he said, she said’, ‘then this happened, then that happened’. What follows from that difficult beginning though is a story in which the reader can immerse: a tale of two people who meet only in dreams. Márquez is in a period of wavering capabilities. Dialogue with the Mirror (1949) includes the dense, impenetrable text that is:

‘There, under his fingertips — and after the fingertips, bone against bone — his irrevocable anatomical condition held an order of compositions buried, a tight universe of weaves, of lesser worlds, which bore him along, raising his fleshy armor toward a height less enduring than the natural and final position of his bones.’

This all said, there are the linguistic flourishes in his early work that amount to some chronicle of a Márquez foretold: ‘That cold, cutting, vertical noise . . .’ (The Third Resignation, 1947); ‘She turned her face to profile and her skin, from copper to red, suddenly became sad’ (Eyes of a Blue Dog, 1950); ‘. . . then she paused on the threshold, coming halfway into the room after, and with the voice of someone calling a sleeping person she said: ‘Boy! Boy!’’ (Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses, 1952).

It is this latter short story that particularly presses itself to my reading psyche: it did, and delicately so, back in 2009 when I first read this collection, and it does so again five years later. Perhaps the afterglow of that first read has shaped a preconceived notion that it would still be fine in its crafting, weight, and poise. This is an aside. What matters here on the second reading is that Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses marks a significant point in this collection, coming at the end of the running order, and tarnished only slightly by the unfathomable The Night of the Curlews (1953). The narrator in the former tale is the boy in question, sought by the now grown woman who was party to the young child’s death some years beforehand. That the narrator, ghost, ethereal boy in question, is a child using adult language can be overlooked because the writing here is some of Márquez’s best in this collection.

Thereafter, save the issues already outlined in the chronologically subsequent stories, Márquez starts to build his characters and places. Senator Onésimo Sánchez appears here in Death Constant Beyond Love (1970) and also, later, and to a lesser extent, in The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother (1972). Márquez also describes Laura Farina here in the former story, come to sexually frustrate the ailing senator in order that he ‘straighten out’ her father’s ‘situation’: ‘Laura Farina sat down on a schoolboy’s stool. Her skin was smooth and firm, with the same color and the same solar density as crude oil, her hair was the mane of a young mare, and her huge eyes were brighter than the light.’ The Sea of Lost Time (1961), despite my aforementioned misgivings, does begin with the prospect of sensory place. Innocent Eréndira itself brings place, character, and the sensory together.

What Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories as a whole offers us is not Márquez’s best work: it does show us flashes of the writer he is to become, but it does also lay before us some dusty, sometimes confused and confounding Kafkaesque introspections perhaps best documented as experiments along the way. In this collection the ripening of Márquez’s long writing career comes to fruition somewhere after these early predispositions on the theme of death are passed.
 
 

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A Voice Analysis of a Body (of Fictional Work)

In a continual analysis of the way I’m writing, in building a new collection of fictions, I find there’s a need to be aware of the way of writing that is taking place ‘now’. That is, it keeps changing: what is it now? I’m of the opinion that a writer needs to be in touch with the idea that analysis of their own writing is important. Even in streams of consciousness writing, we can analyse the process. Being able to deconstruct certain elements in the writing or reading process (if not necessarily in writing that all down, then at least in thought), contributes towards a fuller whole. A body of work can be read in various ways: simple chronology of works created forms a basic frame of reference; maybe that body of work can also be read by way of deflections in and out of themes, motifs, structural arrangements, influences, ways of representing concepts and characters, etc.; maybe the body of work can be read by way of individual voices, or tones of the same voice, within the whole.

The trouble with writing a collection that follows a broad theme, but yet is intended as an array of situations and characters, and which allows for deflections in and out of all the above in the previous paragraph, is that one strong piece written in a certain manner becomes the unintended benchmark. This is an aside, yet something discovered in the process of analysis. That a piece can be strong in its own right, without a need for it to have to correlate with the strengths of the other piece, is something that might need embracing. Matching fictions within a collection against each other might well end up converging on the same way of writing: the same first or third person point of view, the same archetypal characters, crucibles or conflicts, resolutions, and/or patterns in twists in the tales.

In analysis of the individuality of fictions found in various notebooks, as the weeks go by, I’m left wondering about the individual voices contained within each, and whether they’re on the path towards aggregating into some coherent whole. That is, the authoritative, the reflective, the defensive (maybe), the unreliable, might converge into something substantial; yet the ‘now’ being such as it is, we’re not to know. Can we leave it to trust, or should we hone in on one strand (because at least then we know what the end result will have the feel of)?

A recent TV documentary about psychological studies into preferred human states concluded that we tend towards people who present as authoritative. Similarly, in our reading we prefer a strong hand, someone to lead the way in the writing, telling us that this is the way things are. We don’t want someone to be evasive or unsure. We want to be taken somewhere and they can steer. We’ll just enjoy the ride. This is true.

Is this true? I’m often drawn to writers who offer me a chance to think for myself, by way of their reflection, or their device of reflecting so as to draw me into what they want to say. In Dark Back of Time, Javier Marías writes in the very first line: ‘I believe I’ve still never mistaken fiction for reality, though I have mixed them together more than once.’ Similarly, in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, her first line offers a thought: ‘Why is the measure of love loss?’

My next logical step from reflection is the possible defensive. The tone that is ‘I write this because I have to’, as I read it, often opens windows into the writer’s body of work. ‘Having to’ being an implication of the dark draw or gravitational pull of words that will out, no matter what. Franz Kafka wrote a series of meditations that he, perhaps, would have preferred not to be published. In The Men Running Past, he writes: ‘If one is walking along a street at night and a man who can be seen a long way off . . . comes running towards us, then we shan’t lay hands on him . . . after all, haven’t we a right to be tired, haven’t we drunk so much wine?’ Writing because the writing needs to be laid down can be less dour than this. An injection of energy, because the energy of the moment requires it, will run through the whole. In this way it’s real.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita could be the epitome of unreliable narration. Within this strand of thinking — that we can fuse reality and fiction as writers and leave the reader wondering which is which — is a constant fascination for this writer: it’s akin to trying to differentiate the blurred line between indoor and outdoor space (when there are no doors, no marks, just some indication of a possible roof overhead). Or it links to cartography and the way that maps of the edges of islands are never correct: if the map marks the high tide line, or the average tide, this is still never the exact shape of the island at any given moment. What is the exact definition of inside/outside, outline of island, reality/fiction in a piece of writing? This individual way of writing is a strong pull.

Can we leave the potential aggregation of voices (tones of the same voice) to trust (the authoritative, the reflective, the defensive, the fusion of reality/fiction or unreliably natured)? Will trust result in a coherent voice in the whole? Analysis and deconstruction, at least, help this writer to understand the writing of the ‘now’.
 
 

Of the Destruction of a Writer’s Words: an Analysis

In a recent interview by Nick Higham, of the BBC’s Meet the Author slot, Rick Gekoski asks why some writers don’t just destroy their own work themselves, rather than rely on the actions of trusted others after their own deaths. It’s a question he repeats in reference to different writers, and it leaves me wondering on certain aspects of the writer’s psyche.

In talking about the release of his book, Lost, Stolen, or Shredded, Gekoski refers to both Franz Kafka and the diarist Philip Larkin in this way. The book, as I understand it, is concerned with various works of art which have or may have fallen to the titular outcome. Gekoski cites Kafka’s request to his friend, Max Brod, asking that his writings be destroyed after his death. Brod didn’t adhere to this request, evidently concluding that the literary worth of Kafka’s writings should supersede the writer’s own desires. Gekoski also tells the story of Larkin’s request to have his extensive, and potentially damning, diaries destroyed after his death.

Kafka and Larkin could both have destroyed their own work themselves, but they didn’t, Gekoski says. He wonders why this could be.

The following is purely speculative. In the first instance, a writer may fall into the camp of having been so immersed in his writing, so touched by it, so affected in any given way, that to destroy his own words is tantamount to heresy. It is the cardinal sin because it is the destruction of creation. There are writers who don’t fall into this camp, of course. These are the writers who see little worth in their scribblings, rough drafts, musings, and on towards their final polished pieces. These writers might see their works as a means to an end: that they keep the rent paid, food on the table, etc., is a mindset that can be found if delving into the body of literature at our disposal.

That a writer is unable to destroy his own work is, of course, more complex than this though. If Freudian models of the human psyche are to believed, varying degrees of impurity can be poured into the general mix (this mix, up till now, being the altruistic purity that’s about ‘the creation and giving of words’): the ego becomes embroiled in the process, the super-ego niggles away, the id is let loose amongst it all.

The ego is the mask that we wear. If Kafka and Larkin asked that their writings be destroyed (when they could have done this themselves), what masks after death are they asking to be fitted with? I wish to be presented as noble? I wish to be seen, despite face value, as a great writer after all (knowing the double bluff is in operation and my work won’t be destroyed)?

The super-ego is the referee. If we wish our work to be destroyed, though our egos say otherwise, what fights are going on internally? That we can genuinely see if our writing is less than fit is a reflective skill; yet the ego is a powerful demon in us (if we believe in ego at all, that is; though that’s another story). Perhaps we all fall foul of this internal struggle in which the demon mask so often trumps the little accountant of our writerly soul: it may be weak writing, but publish anyway because there is a need to be read.

The id is the impulsive instinctive. Perhaps Kafka and Larkin, as with all of us who write, genuinely did feel that their words should be returned to their constituent parts. Larkin, perhaps, had different motivations: his diaries were, by Gekoski’s account, not likely to present the author in a terribly good light. Kafka may have felt similarly, but with other emphasis. Either way, the writer’s fight or flight mechanism may have a strong part to play here. Run away from potential writerly immortality: let it all go. Maybe, even after death, the writer’s ego pervades: let it all go and the disembodied ego is not so bruised.

Of course, when all is said and done, it’s not so simple to place the reasons why a writer doesn’t destroy his own work and then requests another to do this for him. If there are concerns at the heresy of destroying a creation, the egotistical desire to remain after death, the desire to flee the possibility of being an intrinsic part of the body of literature, then there are also internal squabblings and spiteful self-deceits at play.

We can’t always help the dynamics of these internal actions: we can only be aware that they are there. The writer who does not wish to destroy his own words, but then asks that another does this for him after his death, should perhaps have some honest conversation with himself as to the reasons why he requests what he does. It may be prudent for him to write these reasons down. At least his followers will then know; though what he writes could, of course, cause further questioning of his noble self, or otherwise, his ego and other manifestations of his psyche.
 
 

Book Release: Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume I)

Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume I) Cover Introducing my latest ebook release, ahead of schedule. I had planned to release this collection on or around February 28, but it all came together. Having learned the bulk of what I needed to learn for my first ebook release towards the end of last year, it was just a process of remembering the details. It gets easier, this publication process, especially if you follow the template you’ve devised the first time round.

Now to the book itself. This has not been a quick write. This is fine. I like my words to settle, to take their time, to marinate. Four Kinds of Wreckage (FKoW) is a book of micro-fictions. I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen, and for quite some time now, that writing succinctly isn’t always as easy as it might appear. FKoW is comprised of thirty micro-fictions, ‘short shorts’, which range from a mere 60 words in length to just over 700 words.

I would like to make it clear that this collection hasn’t just been trotted out in a couple of hours. On the contrary, it was written in parallel with my other recently published book, Disintegration and Other Stories (DaOS), and the two titles have taken — in total — three years to produce: in the writing, in various peer review processes, in editing, in the loving removal — where necessary — of aspects that needed this. Micro-fiction does not mean micro-thinking!

There are some overlaps in themes in the two books. I aim to produce a ‘body of work’: this is the writing plan. As such, FKoW (Volume I) will inform Volumes II and III. They will be linked. FKoW and DaOS overlap in places. The individual pieces in FKoW each connect, not in characters or storyline or the like, necessarily, but they connect to the piece immediately before and after in the running order. In these ways, this body of work, this density of the written assemblage is gathering around me.

I had aimed to release FKoW for free. However, the cheapest I can release it for, as a permanent price, would appear to be £0.77 / $1.17 / €0,89, etc., at the time of writing (Amazon have an annoying habit of shifting the dollar price, slightly and occasionally, and not making that known). The sterling price of such offerings does seem to remain pretty constant though. This is a short book, so I offer it at the lowest price.

However, I add a caveat to all readers: please read it slowly. My writing pays deliberate attention to the particular words I’ve used, to the rhythm of the piece, to stories within stories, to references to myths or folklore, in places: just because a piece is 200, 300 or 400 words long, only, it doesn’t mean it should be flicked through at pace.

This is one of the points of micro-fiction, as I see it: that much can be transmitted in few words. Hemingway’s famous six worder is a case study (I won’t repeat it here, but you’ll find it if you need to); Kafka wrote a series of short ‘meditations’; Brautigan was keen on brevity; Calvino wrote some beautiful gems . . .

You can find details of how to get a copy of Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume I), and other releases, at the Bookshop link above or click here. Scroll to the bottom of that page to find out about the free Kindle App for PCs (if you don’t own a Kindle device).

I thank you, and if you buy any of my book offerings please do let me know your thoughts on them.
 
 

Further to the Art of Writing Micro-Fiction

Yesterday’s post, on reflection, didn’t have the clarity and brevity that it needed (despite a reblogging — thank you for that Yas). The words weren’t left to settle long enough. So, in the spirit of trying to aim better, I now aim to make amends in the edit.

Brevity and succinctness are often misunderstood. A very short story may well receive the feedback that ‘it feels like it could be developed into something longer.’ This entirely misses the point.

Holly Howitt-Dring’s essay uses the heading ‘micro-fiction’ as an umbrella term which includes ‘flash fiction’ as well as the ‘short short’. However, I would suggest that flash fiction is more inclined towards quick, timed writing rather than the studied brevity of ‘micro’, as I read it.

‘Micro-fiction’ in this article, therefore, is a form of writing that the author has given plenty of consideration to. There is historical precedent for micro-fiction. This reader considers some works as micro-fiction, even if the author didn’t originally label them as such.

I offer up three examples of historical micro-fiction. These examples are chosen because (i) they appear to have been considered, despite being short, in the writing; (ii) they appear either as parts of a greater whole — a ‘novel’ — or as part of a collection of stories, or as linked pieces; (iii) they can be read as individual pieces in their own right.

Brautigan’s The God of the Martians (1955/56) — six hundred words, divided into twenty ‘chapters’ — is an example that might seem to contradict my earlier statement: that developing a short piece into a longer one misses the point. I use Brautigan’s novel as an example of turning that thought around though: a ‘longer’ piece (albeit only six hundred words) can be viewed by way of its short separate entities — in this case, a series of averaged thirty-word, stand alone stories in themselves.

Kafka’s Meditations (1906-1912) and A Country Doctor: Little Tales (1914-1917) are individual pieces/stories that have been collected into a greater whole. They each stand alone.

Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1974, 1979) are linked, yet they’re stand alone pieces.

Micro-fiction is misunderstood. It is something to aspire to (and there is a body of work to act as precedent). Writing with brevity and succinctness takes some great skill. It need not be the start of something longer (although it can, of course, be a part of something wider): micro-fiction is a beauty in its own right.
 
 

The Art of Writing Micro-Fiction

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.

(Friedrich Nietzsche)
 
Brevity and succinctness are often misunderstood. Put a piece, a very short story, up for peer review and — though it may receive favourable feedback — there’s often a comment tacked on: ‘It feels like it could be developed into something longer.’ This entirely misses the point.

If it’s good in its brevity, there may be a lingering after the reading. The reader may not remember every word, or every detail, every placement of every subtlety, but they may be left with the possibility of the piece playing around in their mind. Sometimes, that playing is the embodiment of the tale itself; sometimes the piece read may turn itself towards the reader, asking ‘so, how do you feel?’; sometimes, a reader’s other memories may rise to the surface as a result.

Writing micro-fiction is a challenge in itself. Let’s not confuse the terms ‘micro’ and ‘flash’ fiction here: the former, as I see it when I write it, is a craft, an art-form in the developing; the latter, though it may result in something good, is a quick race through of words, a sprint — something splashed down quickly.

Holly Howitt-Dring’s essay on micro-fiction, Making micro meanings: reading and writing micro-fiction in Short Fiction in Theory and Practice (Published by Intellect, 2011) provides an excellent research background to the form. Although she does include flash fiction along with ‘short shorts, postcard fiction, sudden fiction and even prose poetry’ under the general heading of micro-fiction, I’m inclined to disagree because of the reasons already given. As a brief overview of the form, in an essay version for Planet Extra she writes:

‘There’s much to condense [in a micro-fiction piece], much left unspoken to the point that the writer makes a pact with the reader: you will not be told everything, you will guess and then, in return, be allowed to interpret the stories as you wish.’

As notable examples of micro-fiction, even if they weren’t termed as such at the time of their writing, I think of work by Richard Brautigan, Franz Kafka, and Italo Calvino.

In 1955/56, Brautigan wrote a subsequently unpublished ‘novel’ called The God of the Martians. He experimented with twenty ‘chapters’, the total word count of the work coming in at just six hundred words. It was rejected by the editor of the literary magazine he sent it to. Brautigan was, it would appear, ahead of his time.

Kafka was also, perhaps, writing short pieces before they could be accepted. However, in this case it was the author himself who didn’t consider them worthy. In the editor’s notes to the 1992 version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Malcolm Pasley quotes the author, regarding his series of short meditation pieces (1906-1912): ‘The few unsold copies of Meditation need not be destroyed, I don’t want to give anyone the trouble of pulping them, but none of these pieces should be reprinted.’ The editor goes on to write that the book met with favourable review when it was published. Metamorphosis also includes a series of short fictions under the collected title of A Country Doctor: Little Tales.

Calvino’s Invisible Cities (English translation 1974, 1979) is just an exceptional series of short fictions, all of which relate a fictionalised account of a different Venice. It may never have ever been termed as a series of micro-fictions anywhere else, but to my reading eye that is exactly what it is.

Micro-fiction is misunderstood: it is something to aspire to (and there is a body of work to act as precedent). Writing with brevity and succinctness takes some great skill and, although the examples I offer up contribute to greater wholes, each piece is also something in itself. Each micro-fiction need not be the start of something longer because each micro-fiction is a beauty in its own right.