Anyone who doesn't read Cortazar is doomed. - Pablo Neruda
If Cortazar is known at all in the States, it’s for the short story "Blow Up" (on which the Antonioni movie was based) and for Hopscotch, a novel that forces the reader to give up any sense of the linear, in favor of skipping madly around the book, back to front and back again, like a crazed shopper racing floor to floor in a soon-to-be-abandoned department store, stocking up on mints, garden implements, and sheets of Egyptian cotton.
This playfulness, this gamesmanship is not a distraction from the text…it is the text. There’s no point looking for clues in Cortazar’s work. They are everywhere, but they lead you in so many directions at once that your head starts to spin.
Cronopios & Famas forces you outside the text, outside of the book. It never quite says so, but it hints at the idea that the stories extend beyond the page. You start by looking over your shoulder, then begin to notice a peculiar smell in the air, like peaches left out in the sun or very wet dogs on a screened-in porch. You put the book down. You’ll find it later. Possibly where you left it. Though not necessarily.
Cronopios & Famas does away with plot and narrative altogether. Cortazar indulges in the mad desire to make sense of the world by offering short and painfully elegant instructions on how to wind a watch, how to climb a staircase, how to kill ants in Rome, how to comb your hair when no one is watching.
Brian Cullman is West Village Editor of Journal of the Plague Years.
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