Microviews Vol. 18: Patric, Kadare, Diaz

on Monday, September 10, 2012
Las Vegas For Vegans by A.S. Patric
A.S. Patric is the sort of Aussie writer who need only rest his pen against a page and someone will throw an award his way. He's bagged both the Ned Kelly and the Booranga and been published in pretty much every reputable lit mag in the country. It's little surprise then that Las Vegas For Vegans, his second collection of short stories, is brimming with skilfully crafted nuggets of imagination and panache. Patric easily flits across genres, which means that there is a story or five for everyone in the collection (there are 33 in all which, for a book that's only 220 pages, is quite an achievement). It also means there'll be a few you're bound not to like. For my taste, Patric is at his best when he spins off into the surreal (UnSubstance, Guns and Coffee and The River), though his speculative forays (Elysium Zen, Ana Schrodinger, Fragments of a Signal) and edgy suburbiana (The Manx Heart, The Boys) also hooked me in. Like all short story collections, Las Vegas For Vegans is a little uneven but at least it shows that Patric is not afraid of taking risks. An exciting book from a writer well worth checking out.

The Fall Of The Stone City by Ismail Kadare
Reading Ismail Kadare has always been a little like playing broken telephone. Most of the English translations were taken from the French which, in turn, had been taken from the original Albanian. This meant that it was often difficult to gauge whether the shortcomings of any particular work (often manifesting as clumsy prose) could be attributed to the author or the translator. Thank the literary gods then for John Hodgson, who has cut out the French middle man once again and given us the fourth of Kadare's novels to be translated directly from Albanian to English. The Fall of The Stone City is a breathtaking piece of fiction, brief in pages but immense in power. For the most part it is the story of Gjirokaster, a town situated near the German border. When the Nazis invade, local partisans deal them an unexpected blow and the people of Gjirokaster await a fierce retribution that never comes. Conjecture abounds, until it becomes apparent that they have been saved thanks to an extravagant party thrown for the German invaders by local dignitary Doctor Gurameto. Years after the war, those who cowered in their homes while the party raged try to make sense of what happened. Was Gurameto a hero or a traitor? Did he sacrifice the partisans to save the town? Gurameto's fate is ultimately tied to that of the city itself; it is tragic and bitter, but it is also symbolic of a country at war with itself.
(With thanks to Evan for setting me straight about Kadare's translations)

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
After stepping aside to allow Oscar Wao some time in the spotlight, Junot Diaz's original hero (or anti-hero) Yunior is back in what might be considered a sequel to his game-changing debut, Drown. Like that book, This Is How You Lose Her is a series of linked short stories that charts the wise-arse Dominican immigrant kid and his family as they make sense of life in America. It is full of the same machismo, the same Spanglish acrobatics, the same dashed hopes, the same.. well, that's the problem. This Is How You Lose Her is too much of the same. No matter how energetic and original Diaz might be, this collection lacks the diversity of voice or tone to lift it above mere repetition of his earlier work. There are funny moments, and currents of deep pathos (the death of Yunior's brother is particularly moving) but they seem to be drowning (pardon the pun) in a sea of beige. I'd have done better to reread The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.


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