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241 pages, Paperback
First published December 1, 2013
Maybe that’s what the literary theorists mean when they talk about the active reader: a reader who suffers when the characters suffer, who is happy when they are happy, who smokes when they smoke.The story brings the reader into what seems like notes jotted by the narrator (the staccato style feels akin to Luiselli’s own novel, and to whom the story is dedicated and also has her make a minor character cameo), but also immerses the story into the wider world of Latin American Literature (and world literature to the frequent allusions and blatant indebtedness to Italo Svevo) through the Bolañoesque name droppings and quotes.
I think that the story can’t end like that, with Camillo St. crying for his son, his son who was practically a stranger to him. But that’s how it ends.This passage, from the ending of the charming story Camillo about the narrator’s childhood friendship with his father’s godson, makes it feel as if the story had to be this way, out of the writers hands. It is as if the stories have written themselves and Zambra a mere conduit for their fruition, and begs for the reader to question if these stories are true or not before recognizing that such thought is beside the point in fiction. While these stories, often of broken men and estranged relationships, are fiction or maybe partly memoir, they do not belong in the My Documents folder of one person, but of all people in order to speak their universal truths.
My first class was in March of 2000, a few days after Pinochet returned to Chile like he owned the place (I’m sorry for these reference points, but they’re the ones that come to mind.)Each and every story in permeated with references to the political news of the time, and characters are often defined by their association to the party, like the mentally handicapped boy of My Documents that walks the street asking people if they are right or left, or the girlfriend in Family Lives that asserts ‘I was born under democracy’ as an excuse for any of her actions. One of the finest stories is the allegorical tale National Institute about a school where students are only known by their student numbers and the teachers are characterized by their cruel fascist nature. ‘I felt indestructible,’ Zambra writes in this gleefully rebellious tale of teenage anti-establishment anger, ‘rage made me indestructible.’ Zambra illustrates how every aspect of life was tainted by Pinochet coming to power, how families were destroyed (such as Camillo’s father being imprisoned and having to live life in exile over in Paris) and opinions silenced.
The first time I saw a computer was in 1980, when I was four or five years old. It’s not a pure memory, though—I’m probably mixing it up with other, later visits to my father’s office, on calle Agustinas. I remember my father explaining how those enormous machines worked, his black eyes fixed on mine, his perpetual cigarette in hand. He waited for my awed reaction and I faked interest, but as soon as I could, I went off to play near Loreto, a thin-lipped secretary with bangs framing her face, who never remembered my name.
For some months, however, there had been portents of a greater disaster: dozens of inexplicable delays, some of them short and reversible, others so long they had to give in and restart the computer. It finally happened one rainy Saturday, which they should have spent calmly watching TV and eating sopaipillas or, in the worst of cases, moving the cooking pots and basins from one leaky spot to another; instead they had to devote the whole day to repairing the computer—or trying to repair it, more with willpower than any real, coordinated strategy.
On Sunday, Max called in a friend who was studying engineering. By the end of the afternoon, two bottles of pisco and five cans of Coca-Cola dominated the desk, but no one was drunk, they were just frustrated by the difficulty of the repair job, which Max’s friend attributed to “something very strange, something never before seen.” But maybe they really were drunk, or at least Max’s friend was, because all of a sudden, in one disastrous maneuver, he erased the hard drive.