These nine stories, translated from the Spanish by Man Booker International Prize finalist Megan McDowell, present us with a Chile we seldom see in fiction: port cities marked by poverty and brimming with plans of rebellion; apartment buildings populated by dominant mothers and voyeuristic neighbors; library steps that lead students to literature, but also into encounters with other arts―those of seduction, self-delusion, sabotage.
If reading can feel like a hand reaching out and taking yours (as Alan Bennett memorably put it), it’s still rare to encounter a debut with a grip this sure. Young Chilean writer Paulina Flores leads you with such cool confidence through her nine stories that I can’t wait to follow wherever she goes next ... feels particularly timely ... A number of stories are written from the perspective of children, and are so saturated with misunderstandings and swollen emotions that they really do transport you backwards. Flores perfectly captures how silly things and life-changingly serious ones can acquire the same weight for a child trying to make sense of a grown-up world ... But while her characters often flounder amid unspoken subtext, Flores exposes the complex workings of even the most off-hand human interactions ... There’s a masterly steadiness to her writing: no flash or dash, but neat psychological insight and understated, sometimes drily funny storytelling. There are also some killer twists. For all that she eschews high drama, I still physically winced a couple of times ... Flores writes convincingly about sex (a rare feat), allowing both roughness and tenderness ... Flores’s stories work just as they are, but the way she sustains this one over nearly 70 pages made me hope there’s a full-length novel on the way.
These are stealthy stories, all in their different ways quite shocking. Here, very definitely, the ‘sins’ of fathers and mothers are visited upon their daughters and sons. Parental sacrifice, failure, disappointment and compromise are seen through unforgiving eyes and tracked through their side-effects on the next generation.
McDowell presents an agile translation ... With conflicts personal and communal in a land in the grip of tyranny, Flores dramatizes difficult situations that are vividly specific and resonantly universal.