Thirty-four short fictions from a splendid practitioner of the craft.
Neuman (Traveller of the Century, 2009, etc.), who was born in Buenos Aires and lives in Spain, is one of the rising stars of Spanish literature, and his reputation should only grow with these new English translations of his short fiction by Caistor and Garcia. These stories of varying length are divided into five discrete groups, plus a delightful addendum of writing maxims at the end. The collection touches a vast diversity of human experience, with meditations on mortality, identity, and forgiveness starched with a liberal amount of bone-dry humor. In the opener, "Happiness," a man named Marcos confesses that he has always wanted to be his friend Cristóbal despite the fact that his friend is sleeping with his wife. In “A Line in the Sand,” a couple finds a dangerous tension in which neither party is sure how far to go. Other stories are wildly inventive. In “Juan, José,” we meet a troubled man and his psychiatrist, both locked in a cycle of denial that is so dynamic that it’s eventually impossible to separate the physician from his patient. Neuman needs only the slightest of strokes to make his point, too. In “The Laughing Suicide,” we hear the confession of a man on the edge of self-harm. “I am ashamed of the ridiculous euphoria that ripples through my stomach as the weapon falls to the floor,” he writes. “Each time this mishap occurs, and although I’ve always been a man of my word, I offer myself a brief postponement. A week. Two. A month, at most. And in the meantime, of course, I try to have fun.” Whether it’s a portrait of a man preparing a deadly fish in “Poison” or the widower who has chosen to forgive his enemies in “After Elena,” Neuman’s stories carry a precision and grace that demonstrate a playful, witty, and piercing intelligence at work.
Even with the slightest of flourishes, Neuman demonstrates a marvelous gift for the medium of short stories, infusing each with equal parts compassion and conflict.