A stellar collection of stories about the mysteries of love as it ebbs and flows, from a well-regarded Spanish novelist.
The first work by the author to be translated into English and published in America, these four stories each shed some oblique light on what one of their first-person narrators terms “the sinuous intricacies of the human heart,” typically from the perspective of someone observing a relationship that he finds unfathomable. Most of the narrators have a literary sensibility, invoking authors from Joseph Conrad to Alice Munro, but the stories undermine the possibility of literature—even these particular narratives—to help the reader (or the narrator) understand relationships that belong “to the terrain of speculation, of the ineffable.” The reader might well feel like the narrator, considering a marriage he can’t understand, who feels “a similar sensation as when I read a text that fails to offer up all its meaning in one reading: confident at having all the pieces of a puzzle but not having found the guiding principle to assemble it.” Most of these four stories (three of them fairly long) ultimately reveal more about the narrator than about the couples he’s struggling to understand. The last two find the narrator, decades older but not necessarily any wiser, attempting to come to terms with a nagging obsession with a memory from boyhood. The shortest story, “Joanna,” is also the most devastating, with its undercurrent of incest that the narrator can only acknowledge by deflection but which has required years of therapy for him to address. “What moves the world is not exactly will,” explains that narrator. “There are habits, passions, commendable goals that prevail through outlandish pathways, genes we cannot imagine that connect us with the most distant past.”
Stories of love at its least sentimental and most richly, maddeningly inscrutable.