The back cover of this small volume boasts a blurb, which proclaims, "Monterroso is certainly the leading living Guatemalan writer..." Not being quite an expert on Guatemalan literature myself, I cannot personally vouch for this statement. What I can swear to, however, is the fact that this compilation of writings by Augusto Monterroso is a collection of brilliant short fictions, which quickly call to mind the works of Swift, Sterne, Kafka, J.L. Borges, and Italo Calvino (among others). Reminiscent of Borges, Monterroso is a master of the self-referential (art about art/books about books); his fictions abound with tales of the weaknesses and general absurdities of writers (and other story-tellers), bibliophiles, reviewers, critics, researchers, musicians, artists and other intellectual and historical figures who may or may not be "real." Like his predecessors, Monterroso's fictions often challenge our assumptions about literature and its conventions. He freely plays with the forms of fiction; there are short stories
"disguised" as letters, essays, and aphorisms. Several of his stories are far shorter in length than the literary quotes he uses to introduce them. One of these, "The Dinosaur," (perhaps his most well-known work) is a mere 8 words long ("When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there."). In other instances, his fictions mirror the rambling nature of the spoken word itself, as they amble on and meander for some 3 or 4 pages without a single bit of punctuation prior to the concluding period.
Like his (above mentioned) literary forbearers, Monterroso is a master of satire, irony, and the absurd. Resembling Swift ("A Modest Proposal"), Kafka, and Borges before him, Monterroso uses a precise, crisp and almost dispassionate writing style to put forth the most absurd and outrageous of fictions. In "Finished Symphony," for example, he casually relates having overheard in passing, someone tell of the discovery, and then destruction of the two lost movements of Schubert's great "Unfinished Symphony." In other instances, his irony can be self-deprecating. "Leopoldo (His Labors)," for instance, is a short story about a reluctant short story writer, who is eternally frustrated in his decades-long attempt to write his first perfect(and never finished)short story. This entire piece of fiction is a virtuoso bit of satire upon the author, himself (and perhaps on all authors). And what could be more absurd, or more comically inspired than "Flies": "There are three themes; love, death, and flies...Let others deal with the first two. I concern myself with flies...In the beginning was the fly...It is easier for a fly to land on the nose of the Pope, than for the Pope to land on the nose of a fly...Oh, Melville, you had to sail the seas before you could finally set that great white whale on your desk in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, not realizing that Evil had long ago circled your strawberry ice cream..."
Monterroso is clearly one of the important figures in the development of modern and contemporary Latin-American fiction. Along with such writers as Bioy Casares, J.L. Borges, Gabriel Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Tomas Eloy Martinez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Julio Cortazar (as well as Italo Calvino, Tomasso Landolfi, John Barth, and Milan Kundera), Monterroso is a brilliant exponent of "Magic Realism". If you admire any of the aforementioned authors, I would urge you to look into this dazzling collection by an inspired writer.