The Peculiar State Synopsis :
A Vintage Shorts Original Selection
Hamburg: home of a lapsed writer and his statistician girlfriend. He is part of the 41 percent of the German population that hasn’t read a single book in the last three months; she decides to make up a game. The rules of the game are these: the two of them travel to a European city, separately, and try to find each other. They make no calls, leave no messages. They wander through Madrid, Munich, Coimbra. When they meet, they return home. But what happens if they don’t?
The Peculiar State is a haunting, mischievous new story from Patricio Pron, one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists and the author of My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain. A thought-provoking, city-hopping story from one of South America’s most important new writers.
Translated from the Spanish by Kathleen Heil (Vintage, Knopf Doubleday)
The unnamed characters in this short story, simply ‘he’ and ‘she’, are dealing with a problem. The writer hasn’t just got writing block, but reading block too!
If someone asks her what he does for a living, she says he’s going through a ‘period of work adjustment” brought on by “the death of the novel and the peculiar state of the short story, periodically declared dead by critics but somehow still alive and kicking,” which is something she’d read in the paper’s Sunday supplement, in a column by a literary critic who frequently appears on television.
Pron’s writing style (and translation by Heil) exudes a contemporary sensibility, featuring evocative simile and alternating perspectives.
“What’s with him?” shes asks herself sometimes. She thinks he’s like one of those office buildings where the lights are slowing switched off one by one as the employees leave and then the night watchman comes and turns off the rest and perhaps the only lights left on are in the hallway, lit up like a landing strip mere seconds before an accident.
The statistician applies her stereotypical clinical efficiency and sets in motion a process she believes will assist her partner. However this process spurns thoughts much broader than mere creative inspiration and they consider the strengths and weaknesses of their distinctly different approaches to life — too frequent comparison with benchmarks can inspire mediocrity while thoughts too expansive often fail to yield action.
So will these contrary forces combine to form the perfect union or an untenable pairing?
The short story is very much ‘alike and kicking’ — The Peculiar State by Patricio Pron is evidence of that. If anything the format is going from strength to strength, with it now being commercially viable to publish shorts individually in digital formats.
When was the last time you read a short story?
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
Genre: Short Story, Literature, Mystery, Romance
Patricio Pron, born in 1975, is the author of three story collections and four previous novels, and he also works as a translator and critic. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story and The Paris Review, and has received numerous prizes, including the Juan Rulfo Short Story Prize and the Jaén Novel Prize. He lives in Madrid.
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* My receiving a copy of this title from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.