Twenty hallucinatory, open-ended short stories by Aira (Shantytown, 2013, etc.), an Argentinian master of improvisational writing.
Reading Aira's work can give you the feeling of being swept up in a flash flood and carried along whether you're ready or not. It’s certainly constant momentum that marks this collection of work, written over the past decade or so—stories begin in the middle, spin on a dime and are often as warped as a Salvador Dalí landscape. The opener, “A Brick Wall,” joins stories like “The Infinite,” “The Two Men” and the title tale in remembering (or dis-remembering) a childhood in Argentina but also paying testament to the enduring strangeness of a child’s imagination and sometimes mocking the author's own literary reputation. “Daydreams are always about concepts, not examples. I wouldn’t want anything I’ve written to be taken as an example,” Aira writes in “The Infinite.” On the flip side, “The All That Plows through the Nothing” finds the first-person narrator working out in a gym, eavesdropping on local housewives and ultimately offering a tender but also funny meditation on aging and death. “Death is the exorbitant price that a failure like me has to pay for becoming literature,” he writes. Then there are the stories that are, as they say, completely different. For instance, “God’s Tea Party,” in which the creator regularly celebrates his birthday with a lavish affair to which only apes are invited as "a kind of deliberate and spiteful (or, at best, ironic) slight on the part of the Lord, aimed at a human race that has disappointed Him.” Or “A Thousand Drops,” in which drops of oil paint from the Mona Lisa run off to start creative lives of their own. Or “Poverty,” a love letter that anthropomorphizes the condition of being poor into a constant companion.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, certainly, but very few can write their way out of a corner better than Aira.