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Odd Man Out


Anyone who doesn't read Cortazar is doomed. - Pablo Neruda

Brian Cullman

Less revered than Borges, less read than Garcia Marquez, Cortazar is the odd man out of Latin American letters: he is the patron saint of impossible jazz, unreadable traffic signs, the vengeance of children and the whisper of womens legs as they walk to and fro in the cool of the evening.    

If Cortazar is known at all in the States, its 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. Theres no point looking for clues in Cortazars 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. Youll find it later. Possibly where you left it. Though not necessarily.

How sad and how strange and how wonderful to read a book that takes pleasure so seriously, that enjoys itself so unashamedly; to read work from a time when clouds were not required to carry identity cards and when shadows were no more than shadows. 
This may be Cortazars lightest book, nothing more than a sandcastle built at the waters edge. You wait for the tide to wash it away. You may be waiting a long time. 

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.

Think of it as a cookbook that conveniently leaves out the recipes. You pick it up now and then to remind yourself of what hunger is.

Brian Cullman is West Village Editor of Journal of the Plague Years.

Brian's Playlist

The Day I Read A Book: Jimmy Durante

I’m Reading A Book: Julian Smith

Book Song: Fairport Convention

Bookshop: Monty Python

Please Read Me: The Bee Gees