Machado’s stories pulse with life. The endings are frequently murky and strange, often abruptly truncated... Few fiction writers have written so affectionately about ideas, as if they were real people; he is always describing how ideas emerge and move, the way they can lose their way and get caught in a crush with others... To Machado, your identity and the contours of your world are formed not just by your circumstances but by what you think about habitually. You are what you contemplate, so choose wisely. These stories are a spectacular place to start.
The new volume, the first in English to bring together all seven of Machado’s story collections, illustrates both the refined pleasures and the somewhat ungraspable nature of his art ... Some [stories] validate Machado’s reputation as a missing link in the lineage of comic experimentalists running from Laurence Sterne to John Barth. Others foreshadow the metafictional techniques that Jorge Luis Borges would immortalize ... Madness becomes the new normal in Machado’s tales, which start to invert and parody, rather than simply imitate, European storytelling conventions. The Western canon is his playground ... Just as ghosts mingle with their survivors, fact bleeds into fiction to create a book of potent emotional force.
One of the pleasures of reading Machado is to encounter this comedy of detail, of human particulars ... There is a worldly hunger in Machado’s writing, an openness to both life and art. He was a voracious reader and an avid theatergoer fond of sprinkling his stories with the garnish of allusion. Rarely do we turn a page without stumbling into La Rochefoucauld or George Sand, Goethe or Shakespeare, Dante or Homer. For Machado, literature begets more literature. He delights in playing with form and narrative; in this volume there are stories written as lectures, stories written entirely in dialogue, and stories in which literary theory itself is mocked ... It is, finally, Machado’s melancholy that lingers ... His best stories are precise attempts to notice life, to save it from the oblivion we sleepwalk toward ... Regret, disappointment, the passing of time—these grow to become Machado’s most poignant subjects ... And yet it is pessimism aimed not at individual human beings so much as at the fate of humanity itself.
A brilliant and imaginative satirist and a contemporary of Chekhov and Maupassant, he is unknown to most American readers. That will change with the release of this monumental volume. A towering achievement in translation, it presents all of Machado de Assis’ stories in English for the first time, and it is a treasury of wily, captivating, ironic, revealing, and exuberant tales of Brazilian life and human folly. These stories are vital; their social particulars striking, even shocking... Machado de Assis’ stories belong in every world-fiction collection.
The 76 pieces amassed in the newly (and deftly) translated Collected Stories are, for the most part, portraits of consummate comfort ... The milieu of the Collected Stories is dazzling, but their author remains unimpressed. His high-society chronicles adopt the formal yet familiar tones of an indulgent father toasting a spoiled child. And despite his occasional surges of lyricism... his voice is dusty with Latin locutions and dense with allusions to Schiller, Montaigne, and Augustine. A reader could be forgiven for assuming that Machado is a native of the ballrooms he describes with such facility ... some of the Collected Stories, masterful works of shrewd sadism, rival even the Brazilian giant’s best-known novels ... Despite the refinement of its setting, Machado’s fiction inflicts unlikely tortures on its characters and cruel suspense on its readers ... It’s only apt that the Collected Stories are so repetitive: The book is organized just like an obsession, with manic motifs that nag and gnaw ... As [Machado] picks not only his characters but also his readers apart, dangling us over the open flames, he can already see into our suspicious hearts: He already knows that we will spasm, not just with fear but with a rhapsodic rush of misery. The crowning cruelty is that we will enjoy it.
The Collected Stories of Machado stands as a primary firsthand literary portrait of Brazil... In whatever regard, this collection offers plenty of evidence for why he enjoys the reputation he does, a pioneer of moods and modes that include fables, thin satires, and even gothic romances. Essential to students of Latin American and world literature.