A first collection of 13 stories, several set in Argentina, that chronicles the traumas of domesticity. Barragan is strong on texture, not so certain about dramatic necessity, although the stories at their best evoke the sorrows of fading marriages and small unpleasant surprises. Of the better pieces, "Son" is a sensitive narrative about parents whose child is dyslexic; both the child and parents must cope with callous diagnoses and unsympathetic professionals. "Friends of the Teatro Colon," set in Buenos Aires, begins with Olga visiting Argentina to search for her past and her family, but moves into a series of Garcia M†rquez-like portraits of a circle of friends. "Wasn't Hemingway at Enghien?" is a grandmother-granddaughter story: the grandmother's marriage has turned stiff, and the granddaughter reveals that her lover is a woman—and the story quietly explores the surprises even the most casual life can spring on its participants. The rest of the stories or sketches tend to be sufficiently descriptive but lacking in necessary drama. "Whatever Became of Rebin Bender?" traces the decline of a marriage; "Livia and the Gypsies," set in Spain, is a sketch about a child fascinated with a gypsy family; "The Mechanics of Turbulence in Fluid," set in England, is a cleareyed travelogue disguised as a tale about a man whose former lover is pregnant and, it turns out, unbalanced. A cheap surprise ending tends to subvert an otherwise-admirable modulation: "The Swimmer from Vanishing Point" begins as a vacation story about a 45-year-old narrator returning to a childhood spot with her younger sister—and finishes as a mild descent into fear and darkness followed by the safe return to the family hearthstone. A mix-and-match fire sale: a few gems, the rest readable and pleasant enough but otherwise undistinguished.
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