Va en inglés, con el tiempo la traduciré para mi locatario
Un-wonderful stories in the near future
Hernán Vanoli’s first collection of short stories is a disturbing, fascinating book
Sigmund Freud defined the uncanny (also known by its German word Unheimliche, which literally translates as “unhomely”) as something that can be familiar yet foreign at the same time, and therefore feels uncomfortably strange. Adolfo Bioy Casares and Jorge Luis Borges, in Argentina, practiced a branch of fantastic literature based on one, and one alone, fantastic or supernatural element thrown in the middle of an otherwise fully realistic plot. The four tales Hernán Vanoli gathers in Varadero y Habana maravillosa do not hail back to that tradition, but they do share this basic tenet: nothing can be as deeply unsettling as the world as we know it, yet different.
Vanoli could, if pushed for a label, be termed a science-fiction writer, but of the kind that happens fifteen minutes into the future and which sets itself as a twisted mirror on reality. This mirror shows us an unhomely image that varies from our own in subtle yet powerful ways (something added here, a little distortion there) that do nothing but portray it more accurately in all its gory shades. Moreover, this variation is taken for granted and understated, something that is in the air and seething below the surface but which the narrative never displays or disects.
Take the opening story, Funeral gitano: someone dies in a poor barrio, and a friend honours his wish for a Gypsy burial, a merry celebration. The backdrop is dire: poverty, but also a disease that poor people carry and the political and social organizations they have formed around their condition and the aid stingily doled out by the State, every bit like picket groups, fighting and negotiating with power in the same ways. It is a harsh life, with rough people and grim deeds, and the story unfolds in a downward spiral that spares no horrors. Bleak land.
Or the title story, where a tour of Cuba is accompanied by vaccinations, permissions and the necessary medication for the one place in the world where primitive food and “friction sex” are available: there, a young girl will find the truth of a friend’s former Caribbean beau and be treated to some bizarre visuals of her parents behind closed doors thousands of miles from home. Or the sinister glimpses of something very dark in the smuggling mules of Eugenia volvió a casa. Or Castores, the nouvelle that takes up the second half of the book and which plays on the “socially aware tourism” of European scholarship kids slumming it as they record documentaries of Third World social struggle during a strike in Patagonia, as seen through the eyes of the locals who set up the tour as a way of taking as much money off their pockets as possible.
Throughout the book, something is always itching and whispering threatening yet undistinct words from a spot we cannot quite place, let alone reach. There are always missing pieces to the puzzle, a gap at the core of the story that is not explained, not even hinted at. Unlike the worldbuilding techniques of conventional sci-fi, bent on presenting coherent, rock-solid worlds, the open ends are everything here. This tantalizing suggestion of the dark, this careful management of (mis)information, is Vanoli’s most daring and rewarding trait, and makes the stories profoundly unsettling: that, and the fact that they strike so close to home, that their tone is spot-on, that the characters and plots are like so many kicks in the teeth. Every sentence strikes the nail square on the head, every element builds the story, every story is a powerful statement.
Besides gritty and hardhitting, these stories are truly and powerfully political: no explicit references or commentary (plenty of that at Vanoli’s blogs, www.elvolquete.blogspot.com and www.lamaquiladora.blogspot.com), but a texture of reality that is imbricated with a social fibre, the presence of political struggle in its everyday dimension. Like the transformations on reality, this political reading is so organic to the stories that it does not even need stating: no manifestos but a point is made; no epics, but that makes it epic.
So far, Hernán Vanoli was available as a name in collective short story anthologies: in his first solo flight, he proves a rigorous, original, uncompromising writer with an unmistakeable voice. At 30, that’s saying something.