Fifty ultra-brief stories by the Slovenian writer that revel in absurdity and pointed ironies. This is his second collection (Skinswaps, 1998) translated into English.
No piece is longer than four pages, and many are only a paragraph or two. The fiction is driven more by aphorisms, jokes and paradoxes than storytelling—readers of Lydia Davis’ fiction will be familiar with the technique. But Blatnik has a knack for wringing insight and meaning out of such concision, and he occasionally places stories with similar themes next to each other to exploit their resonances. “One,” in which a man imagines an animal sleeping next to him, is followed by “Say That,” about picking up a girl in a bar, which is followed by “Separation,” in which a man wakes up in a strange woman’s bed. In this trio and elsewhere, the theme is isolation; Blatnik is concerned with how our feelings of security are challenged while we’re alone. He writes skillfully in a variety of tones. “Experts” is a slice of political satire in which PR pros discuss promoting a war; “Home From XpanD” compresses into five lines a joke about cultural consumers literally being consumed; and “Cracks” is a mini horror story, evoking the feeling of dread that strikes a man who hits a child with his car in the night. At his most experimental, Blatnik can be downright cubist: “In Passing,” for instance, deploys a series of clipped, staccato sentences to capture a rock flying through the window of a moving train. The stories’ chief flaw is that their brevity usually means that the stakes aren’t very high for his characters—even when the subject matter is serious, Blatnik doesn’t afford himself the space to give them much gravitas. (And the characters are typically nameless, which exacerbates the feeling.) The two pages of “Spinning,” which describe a man who’s panic-struck about his entire future after a botched DJ gig, are nicely turned, but the reader can’t help but wonder what Blatnik might do with the story in five pages, or even ten.
Charmingly taut fiction that occasionally cries out for broader canvases.