The mysteriousness inherent in everyday phenomena and the bizarre, sometimes romantic relationships between people and the objects with which they surround themselves are the constants in this arresting collection: a gathering of six stories by the Uruguayan fabulist (1902–64), whose odd fiction intermittently resembles that of Borges, Calvino, and Cortázar. Hernández was also an accomplished pianist (a 1993 translation of his work was in fact entitled Piano Tales)—a passion that strikes the dominant chord in “My First Concert in Montevideo,” “The New House,” the extended title story (a hilariously unconventional fictional autobiography), and “The Crocodile” (in which a frustrated musician employs his artistic gifts to succeed in business). Best of all is the novella “Around the Time of Clemente Colling,” a compact bildungsroman about a one-eyed blind piano teacher who inspires his pupil (the story’s narrator) to “see” beyond the limits of his environment and experience.
Hernández’s wispy, impish rhetoric may charm you or leave you scratching your head in wonderment. But his uniquely personal, willfully elusive stories are very much worth reading.