THE SCENT OF BUENOS AIRES by Hebe  Uhart

THE SCENT OF BUENOS AIRES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first collection in English from the acclaimed Argentine short story writer (1936-2018) who possessed a well-trained eye for life’s idiosyncrasies.

Uhart’s stories often turn on the simplest of everyday settings: baking a cake at home, a trip to a hair salon, a day at an elementary school, a homeowners’ association meeting. Yet the delivery is just a touch off-center, as if her prose were microdosed: The narrator of “At the Hair Salon” imagines the woman washing her hair “rations out the assault like a cat” and figures the pedicurist “was destined for heroic deeds, like driving a tank in the steppe”; the homeowners’ meeting escalates from complaints about mail delivery to climate change. The offbeat observations are fitting for characters who tend to see the absurdity of existence: “Human beings are radically alone,” says one character; “the world was just one big prison,” thinks another. Sometimes Uhart's stories take a fablelike form, as in “The Wandering Dutchman,” about a foreigner’s bemused travels through the Argentine countryside (“the whole world was a concert of cows, doves, and frogs”), or “Mister Ludo,” about a man who hikes his family from town to town with six children in a line behind him, as if they were ducklings. But the stories are unified by Uhart’s interest in families, especially women’s roles within them. The opening “Guiding the Ivy” follows the narrator, who is going about her day while fearing becoming a woman whose “life was in a perpetual state of disaster”; in “The Light of a New Day,” an elderly woman fears for the neglect of her neighbor, who’s broken her hip. These stories rarely adhere to conventional plots, but as mood pieces they’re effective glimpses into the peculiarities of Uhart's characters, who crave order but usually concede that the world's default mode is disarray.

A welcome (if, alas, posthumous) introduction to a sui generis writer.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-939810-34-2
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: Archipelago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2019