Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Short-a-Day: Mario Bellatin's "Lessons for a Dead Hare"

Originally published in A Public Space, No. 5, 2008. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 1.

[Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Alarcon]

Bellatin's story begins with the promise of some twisty, allegorical magic realism, in the style of Borges: "In one of the texts in The Notebook of Things that Are Difficult to Explain, the blind poet speaks of a certain event that took place in an institution known as the Last Citadel." Instead, this is numbered 1, and along with sections 6, 11, 16, 21, and 26, will jump from the sick who have been forcibly interned to the universals who live nearby and who have begun trading amphetamines with the interns in return for tainted blood (for "life within in the institution is less harsh than life outside it, since it was thought that whatever controversy forced internment might spark could be quelled by granting certain advantages to the quarantined that the healthy people could not have"). The story turns, at last, to the blind poet and the adopting fishermen who raised him. These sections range from a sentence to a paragraph in length, and they do little more than whet our appetite for a story.

And that's to say nothing of the other four recurring sections (e.g., 2, 7, 12, 17, 22, 27): One describes a writer's quest to find a quiet place in which to compose, and of how ironically he ignores the opportunities to garner material because he is so strongly set on writing at that point in time. Another talks of a translator preparing to work on the soon-to-be-public-domain ouvre of Franz Kafka, but quickly cuts to a news item about infant twins found abandoned in a cave and raised in a most unusual orphanage. The other plots dwell on a tourist in New York City who is struck by "the techniques the writer Sergio Pitol used to transform tragedy into carnival and vice versa, so that the most artificial buffoonery might end in the most appalling tragedy," and on the remembrance of a dead grandfather's conjuring use of the Quechan language. In the sense that these are stories within stories within stories, the trace of Borges remains, but that's about it. The language isn't particularly vivid or contemplative, and the threads go nowhere. Disappointing.

No comments: