Greg Brown's Reviews > Collected Stories
by Gabriel García Márquez, Gregory Rabassa , J.S. Bernstein
This is the first I've read by Marquez and OK, I guess.
One of Marquez's themes that becomes clear over the course of these twenty-six stories is the way that the odd quickly becomes familiar, and how some things that are familiar are actually rather odd in practice. The first batch of stories, published as "Eyes of a Blue Dog" in Spanish, are insistently concerned with the limits of physical existence. The characters experience blindness, death, and other hardships tied to their bodies. Marquez finds a way to pick out the salient details, creating drama out of even a man shaving himself using his own reflection.
That reflection story in particular manages to hint at his later moves towards the fantastic. The third and final batch of stories starts with the excellent story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," which chronicles the arrival in town of a very old man with enormous wings. Initially a spectacle, he quickly ceases to hold any value for the town's residents, forced to subsist on mush in a chicken coop. Marquez shows how the ordinary can subtly be fantastic by presenting a fantastic situation that quickly turns ordinary. I suppose this is an aim of the larger magical realism movement too.
The voice is hard to pin down, too. It's got that slippery feel of translated prose to it, but not the simple, plain-spoken quality of Murakami's take on magical realism. It can be sensuous one moment, and clinical the next. It dives into characters and spins out of them just as quickly. It refuses to be pinned down, but still feels as if it was all written by the same author. I could never really get my thumb on it, partially because the stories span such a length of time in the developing talent of Marquez.
Overall, it was a pleasure to read but I can't say that I was blown away like I was by some of the other stuff I've read recently. The stories did have their wonderful moments, but they were diffuse and not quite as discrete-blow-to-the-cranium as the best ones are. The book felt weird, but too comfortable for my taste. Maybe it's because today's authors have already digested and iterated on Marquez's style, but the whole experience felt like I was reading something I'd seen somewhere else. I can understand why my friend Maggie so eagerly pushed it on me, but the effect was more of recognizing why it's good, not feeling why it's good.