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COMPLETE WORKS: and Other Stories by Augusto Monterroso Kirkus Star

COMPLETE WORKS: and Other Stories

By Augusto Monterroso

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Sophisticated wit and playful surrealist fantasy dominate these ingenious and gently mocking tales, by a Guatemalan-born soulmate to the late Jorge Luis Borges. This first English translation of Monterroso's work offers the contents of his two published collections, Complete Works and Other Stories (1959) and Perpetual Motion (1927): They're a monument, if that isn't the wrong word, to this entertaining author's trademark ""concision and wit."" Several stories fill only a page, or even less: The memorable ""The Dinosaur"" requires but a single sentence, while ""The Eclipse"" says in a compact page-and-a-half all that need ever be said on the subject of cultural myopia. Elsewhere, Monterroso explores the political and social ramifications of a proper Bostonian's relocation to South America as a dealer in shrunken heads (""Mister Taylor""); toys with images of Margaret Truman as a nondescript pianist (""The Concert"") and Jacqueline Kennedy as a socially conscious culture-vulture (""First Lady""); and examines yet another form of North American exploitation of Latin America's resources (""The Brain Drain""). Monterroso's quirky interest in the integrity and depth of presumably unremarkable personas, objects, and animals (""Cow"") extends to a compulsive assemblage of epigraphs culled from poetry and prose descriptive of ""the fly."" If several of the author's more discursive stories tend toward flat pronouncement, his essaylike studies of literary and cultural monomania achieve such happy consequences as an amazing and generous appreciation of his great peer and probable mentor (""The Advantages and Disadvantages of Jorge Luis Borges""); a dazzling portrayal--in ""Leopoldo (His Labors)""--of a semiliterate litt‚rateur who, while preparing assiduously for a brilliant literary career, unfortunately neglects to write; and a deliriously funny catalogue-story (in the manner of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy), ""Solemnity and Eccentricity,"" that sketches the lives of such worthies as ""Charles Waterton . . . a naturalist, a first-rate taxidermist, and a highly skilled tree climber."" Charming work, attractively translated by the estimable Edith Grossman, from a minor writer of something approaching genius.