December 2002

Sonia Pereira


A Whistler in the Nightworld: Short Fiction From the Latin Americas edited by Thomas Colchie

After reading Isabel Allende's House of Spirits so many years ago and following it up with some Gabriel Garcia Marques and Luis Borges I've had a certain appetite for the often tasty literary dishes of Latin American writers.

Which is why Thomas Colchie's new anthology of Latin American fiction came as somewhat of a disappointment. After reading more than a few pieces in the collection, I'd started to tire of the strained tone the stories often carried, perhaps the results of poor translation skills but irritating nonetheless.

Colchie's purpose in creating the anthology seems to run along the idea that Latin American writers don't all prescribe to the often cliche aspects of magic realism. An interesting proposal, I thought while reading his introduction, but sadly a flimsy one as well. Not only are many of the anthology's stories devoid of any surrealistic qualities, they're empty of any sort of substantive essence as well.

Laura Esquivel, usually such a warm and poignant storyteller, recounts the frigid tale of a bored housewife that dabbles with virtual sex until she no longer feels the need for its exciting attributes in her life. The reasons why she's changed her mind aren't explained or even hinted at, leaving the reader somewhat dumbfounded.

In "Flight," Mayra Santos-Febres tells the story of a tough-as-nails female newspaper photographer who gets stabbed by a barfly. Again, a purpose to the story seems lost in the brittle execution of somewhat flat characters and a modern woman's seemingly meaningless life.

The most consuming piece in the collection is Angeles Mastretta's "Aunt Concha," a piece about a woman who uses her wits to make a fortune while her good-for-nothin' husband gambles their dough away on risky business ventures. Eventually, Concha gets her husband placed in a mental asylum and there he stays from his own free will. The piece ends with a sad reminder that by the time Concha dies at eighty-some-odd-years, she has only just begun to enjoy her life. The story is a quick study in sacrifice and ambition and does a good job at encouraging the image of a strong woman who isn't afraid of societal criticism in exchange for just rewards.

If you enjoy Latin American fiction I'd recommend leaving this one on the shelf. For some real good literary meat-cake take a yummy bite out of Julia Alvarez, Allende, Borges, Coelho, and of course, Marquez. Not only does this anthology not convince me that its contents aren't a true account of modern Latin fiction, but it also proves an old adage true: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

A Whistler in the Nightworld: Short Fiction from the Latin Americas edited by Thomas Colchie
ISBN: 0452283582
400 pages