Brevity is the Soul of Wit — Quick Fix: Sudden Fiction by Ana María Shua

Quick Fix: Sudden Fiction

Quick Fix: Sudden Fiction
BY Ana María Shua
TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH
BY
Rhonda Dahl Buchanan
ILLUSTRATED BY Luci Mistratov
(White Pine Press, 2008)

In a world between dreamsong and nightmare, offbeat line drawings, aphorisms, observations inspired by insomnia and insights on the writing life mingle with rabbis, vampires and settings ranging from the imaginary to the real. Candid moments appear as readily as more cryptic distillations, which vary in length from one-liners such as “Every witch has her broom or longs for one” (p. 51) to a few paragraphs.

Often labeled as micro-fiction, sudden fiction, flash fiction, cuentos brevísimos or even as prose poems, very short stories allow readers to draw inferences and to puzzle over the more fantastic elements in these forms, from logic-defying events to experiments with time and space. Rhonda Dahl Buchanan’s translations from the Spanish recapture the dark tones found in the original versions included in this edition. Much like Charles Addams’ illustrations, the macabre humor creates the sensation of having entered a world whose characters play by their own rules:

Following the sorcerer’s advice, he carved a wooden figure in the exact image of his enemy and burned it in a field, at night, under the moon. Attracted by the glow of the bonfire, his enemy found him and killed him with one thrust of his spear.

— “Bad Advice,” p. 152

Selections from four of Ana María Shua’s previous collections[1] also examine some of the more disconcerting facets of human nature. Whether glancing at the underbelly of “happily-ever-after” fairytales:

Ever since Cinderella’s lucky break, after each ball the servants wear themselves out on the stairs sweeping a ridiculous assortment of women’s shoes, but never a matching pair to walk away with.

— “Cinderella II,” p. 84

or considering the inevitability of mortality:

Time travel’s not only possible, but also inescapable and never ending. Ever since I was born, I’ve done nothing but sail toward an abominable fate. What I’d like to do is stop, stay right here, which isn’t too bad: throw out the anchor.

— “Time Travel,” p. 25

Shua introduces familiar scenarios, then adds a novel twist that exposes our desires, showing how some may be fulfilled while others remain elusive. In section 92 (p. 39) of Dream Catcher a man dreams of pursuit. He sends “the dogs of his desire” after a woman, but much to his disappointment, awakens to find that she’s already beside him. Other stories return to the idea of longing for the impossible, for the ability to turn back time, or for results that differ from reality. In section 235 the speaker declares, “Among the forms of suicide: go back in time to the moment of your own conception and prevent it” (p. 59). Section 215 (p. 54) presents a genie who lures customers by proclaiming “Buy this lamp: I can fulfill my master’s every wish.” We soon learn that he has only one master: the owner of the lamp shop, whose goal is to sell more lamps.

Shua’s timing is especially formidable. She cuts to the chase without over-explaining, and conveys a wisdom as pithy as any proverb.

The most thematic chapter is a series focused on a brothel. In Geisha House we’re introduced to several fetishists, including a woman named “Miss Insatiable” (p. 75), as well as to an economical madam who allows voyeurs to believe they are spying through a one-way mirror even though they are watching “jubilant exhibitionists” (p. 66) through a pane of ordinary glass. The clever strategy of making each party believe they are receiving a service is repeated in “Cutting Costs” (p. 69), a story which involves masochists who pay for others to witness their humiliation even as it is rumored that sadists are “charged admission” for the privilege. The boundaries between customers and employees are no longer sharply delineated; who is doing the desiring, and who is being desired? Though the topics are mature, none of these liaisons are directly depicted. The writing is sophisticated in its exploration of the lengths some will travel for satisfaction.

Ghost Season amplifies the sadder notes woven throughout the previous chapters. What has been longed for remains as difficult as ever: “And yet, the goal is always off in the distance… They’ll never be able to catch up with it. The same goes for the rest of us, even the slowest” (“Runners,” p. 168). Shua’s sense of timing in these stories is especially formidable. She cuts to the chase without over-explaining, and conveys a wisdom as pithy as any proverb.

Quick Fix, however, should not be mistaken for a simple array of tragicomedies or folksy moral tales. The author avoids drawing stock characters and does not offer simple warnings against the consequences of desire. She demonstrates how brevity is, in many instances, the soul of wit, and how it does not preclude greater depths. The unspoken is imbued with as much significance as the actual words. Each short story becomes a shadow-box — a layered juxtaposition of objects and negative space, shaped by a highly idiosyncratic vision — to be viewed with wonder, and revisited each time with a fresh perspective.


REFERENCES

  1. La sueñera (Dream Catcher), Casa de geishas (Geisha House), Botánica del caos (Botany of Chaos), and Temporada de fantasmas (Ghost Season)

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