The real and the unreal merge in this latest collection by a young Bolivian writer.
A young girl discovers that a schoolmate has died of an asthma attack. “The funeral is at seven,” her mother says, instructing Elsa, the family’s nanny/maid, to have the girl ready by then. “Elsa, I asked as she braided my hair, where do the dead go? The dead never go, she answered me, her mouth full of bobby pins.” At the funeral, the girl and her classmates gather before the coffin. Then, suddenly, “the hall, people, coffin, flowers, our own astonished bodies, everything levitated in a single iridescent shaft of light.” So ends “Alfredito,” the second story in Colanzi’s (Permanent Vacation, 2010) latest book. It’s a telling moment in what is anything but a conventional collection of stories. In “Cannibal,” a man waits for his drug-trafficking girlfriend in a Paris bar. In “Story with Bird,” a disgraced surgeon hides out on a country estate run by slave labor. In story after story, the everyday ends up merging, one way or another—by sloping gently or by veering suddenly—with the otherworldly or the absurd or the untethered or some combination of these. There is no way to predict what is coming. As soon as you’ve found a foothold in Colanzi’s world, her rules of engagement will suddenly shift. “Our Dead World” ends in a line of verse; neither that story nor “Story with Bird” ends with a period, never mind a complete sentence. “Family Portrait” shifts rapidly between various points of view. Colanzi is an original talent with an utterly unique vision. Still, this slim collection doesn’t entirely satisfy. Colanzi might strip the rug out from beneath your feet, but then she seems to falter. So what, you might wonder. What comes next? Maybe her next book will satisfy more fully.
An unpredictable, formally inventive collection of stories still leaves something wanting.