So often, we don’t miss the things we love until we’re sure they’re gone for good—that’s part of the lesson in this elegant, all-too-brief novella from prize-winning Chilean novelist and poet Zambra (Bonsai, 2008).
This Möbius strip of a story examines a single night in the life of Julián, a writer and professor, who is tending to his stepdaughter Daniela while they both wait for absent wife and mother Verónica to come home from her art class. Julián, younger but uglier than Daniela’s father Fernando, doesn’t seem like the jealous type and occupies the idling hours by telling his charge the titular story, a rambling, extemporaneous tale about the vegetable denizens of a nearby jungle. As the hours tick by, Julián’s imagination gets the best of him. “To keep calm, Julián thinks that literature and the world are full of women who don’t come home, of women who die in brutal accidents, but at least in the world, in life, there are also women to, unforeseeably, have to take a friend to the hospital, or who have a flat tire in the middle of the avenue and nobody stops to help,” Zambra writes. The novel is short, but its author pours caution and tension into every line like the poet he is. The more time that passes in this long evening, the further away Julián’s mind wanders, imagining the life that Daniela will have as a popular psychologist, dreaming of the day that she reads his unfinished novel. “Julian is a blot that is erased and goes away. Verónica is a blot that is erased and remains. The future is Daniela’s story,” we learn. By the time Zambra brings readers to the precipice of his ambiguous ending, we’re left asking the same question that Julián is forced to ask himself: When does the future begin?
A fleeting story translated with care—worth savoring.