January 16, 2018


Friday, July 14, 2017

Stories written with a stiletto

By Nicolás Meyer
For The Herald

If you’re looking for some placid reading with a narrative that oozes the milk of human kindness to the point that the pages stick together... this isn’t the book.

In fact, going through the 10 short stories in Seres queridos (i.e., Loved Ones) I could well imagine the author, Vera Giaconi — clad in black like Morticia from the Addams Family — writing them not on some namby-pamby computer but with the point of a stiletto. Dipped not in ink but in a tincture of snake poison.

Not that there’s anything of the mainstream horror story here. No cobwebby castles, creaking doors, threatening shadows or sinister-looking attendants. Here are everyday situations that Giaconi (a Uruguayan-born Argentine) has set up because, in them, she has seen the potential for things to go wrong. Or for the same to happen to the people in them, such as a worsening of any bad traits incubating in their nature. The noxious vibes needn’t come striking like a scorpion’s sting — though they can — but may just accumulate disquietingly. Why, one of the stories actually has a happy ending, of a hesitant kind.

The one thing they all have in common is very sharp and unsparing observation of human nature. The last and longest of the tales is the one that comes nearest to horror as the word is usually understood in a literary context. Only a bare indication can be given about the storylines, in order not to give too much away about such short although highly incisive pieces. But it can safely be revealed that this last story is about a married couple for whom a series of miscarriages leads to gradually stranger behaviour.

Other tales are based on such premises as a little boy’s temper after a mishap (which has taken place before the story starts), a miserly man contemplating a mother he rues as cheap, a patient who has come to depend on her doctor, or a woman’s relationship with her brother-in-law. Two of the stories contain a political dimension, both referring to the dictatorial times when people might have to escape the country or suddenly “disappear.” Yet even then, that situation is the background rather than the foreground of Giaconi’s barbed personal dramas.

Everything is set down in a straightforward writing style. The author’s aim, achieved with total success, is to build up an oppressive or rawly revealing feeling with plot and piercing detail, not with literary frills.

The accounts may unfold in the third or in the first person. In one of those that use a first-person narrator, the latter describes herself as just what the cover flap reports Giaconi to be in real life: a freelance writer and proofreader or text reviser. It is to be hoped that the rest of what unfolds in that story is only fictional.

Her photo is also on the flap, and a quite arresting image it is. Above, I said I could imagine her clad in black like Morticia. Yet that was, as indicated, my mind’s-eye image of her at work. In the photo, taken in a non-working environment, the part of her that’s seen indeed shows black, but it’s a summery top with a thin shoulder strap — nothing Morticia-ish about the attire. But the facial expression!

Maybe one shouldn’t make too much of a book-flap likeness, but in this case it’s really tempting to compare the photograph (credit: Natalia Fanucchi) to one of those portrait paintings or sculptures in which one feels the artist has really captured the subject’s character. At least it ties in with the psychological stance she chooses to reveal in these stories. A drilling eye-glance like that of a basilisk (luckily directed sideways and not straight out at the onlooker), a mouth adjusted to a stern don’t-mess-with-me setting. An overall expression not unlike that of a cornered cobra (if it had expressions): “I know what the world is like, but I intend to give as good as I get.”

In sum, the image matters because it says a lot about the stories — and vice versa. It could all be happenstance, the fleeting luck of the snapshot; but even if that were the case, it was still the one chosen for publication, which means something.

One little mistake that has crept into the book involves a woman’s remark to her married lover, “The most intelligent things you say come at night” — just a few pages after it has been mentioned that they never have any contact at night. Many readers may not even notice the slip. They will all, however, notice the punch packed by this collection.

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia