Thursday, May 14, 2009

Borgen Again

Ask me who my favorite short-story authors are, and the name Borges will inevitably crop up.  This is stranger than it may seem.  My entire exposure to Borges consists for a handful of stories I read during a course on fiction writing.  He never came up during my proper literature classes (probably because, y'know, he ain't English), and for whatever reason I never pursued him on my own.  Until now.  His name has been at the back of my mind for a while when I'm trawling the library catalog, looking for more works by authors I've enjoyed before, and finally the time came to grab his Ficciones and have a look-see.

It's excellent stuff, of course.  Quite a few of them were repeats, most notably "The Garden of Forking Paths" and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote."  The latter is particularly interesting; my fiction writing instructor had a thing for stories that don't seem like stories, and enjoyed works of fiction that were presented as literary criticism, essays, recipes, news stories, etc.  There were more in that vein in this collection, along with some finely-crafted stories that follow a more conventional narrative structure.


Two of my favorite stories dealt with other worlds: one "real," the other imagined.  There's a fascinating tale of a library universe, one that contains every possible book that could ever be written.  It is shockingly rich in detail, and in just a few dozen pages becomes even more believable than many fantasy novels I've read.  Another story starts with the narrator stumbling across a seemingly fictitious article buried within a set of encyclopedias, and spins out to reveal a vast, entertaining, baffling conspiracy to use fiction to create an entire realized world.  This, of course, is what authors like Borges do, but presented in this way, it becomes even more striking.

There's also a thoroughly satisfying detective story, and a poignant vignette about a man thrust against his will into a duel.  Yet another story-that-doesn't-seem-like-a-story takes the form of a theological article, describing a rebellious theologian's determination to redeem Judas Iscariot's reputation through a shifting set of rationalizations.


I can heartily recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys a little touch of oddness in their literature.  Borges is largely responsible for the style of many of my favorite authors, like Pynchon and Saunders, and it's a treat to discover him again.  Each individual story is quite short and readable, allowing you to pace your progress however you like.  Enjoy!

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