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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, June 26, 2017

The state of Europe as seen in Best European Fction 2017

One of the strongest entries in Best European Fiction 2017 is from the Spanish/Basque writer Karmele Jaio, Two Stories - one very short piece, Mirros, which simply involves a woman examining her body in the mirror and unfolding her thoughts about her ex-husband, her sexuality, her maturity, her aging, a subtle insight into a life in just a few paragraphs. The longer story, Scream, is narrated by a writer, a woman, who does her work in the evenings in the family living room; she's devoted to writing and her husband is devoted to soccer. He watches soccer matches in the living room, using a headset so that he doesn't disturb her, but he can't help but, on occasion, screaming out some comment about the game or cheering a goal. Over time, she becomes curious about his soccer fascination - which has an effect on her writing, and on their relationship, that's startling and kind of funny - a terrific and surprising scene from a marriage. I also liked the entry from another Spnish Castillian) writer, Carlos Robles Lucena, Don't Ask for Gagarin, which describes a visit to the now nearly abandoned Soviet space center - a spooky and strange piece of fiction, or maybe journalism - not sure how closely Lucena bases this account on an actual visit, if at all. This story, though, shows what works and what seems amiss about this anthology: Some of the pieces are strong, almost all worth reading in any event, but I'm surprised at how little the writers have to say about their own culture, time, and place. Most of the pieces are unconventional in regard to structure and narrative tone, which may reflect the editor's taste although it's fair to say that European writers have often been in the vanguard in various literary and cultural movements - not always to good effect. None of the innovative stories strike me as true stylistic breakthroughs, however, and the best selections - my own prejudice, or course - tend to be the more conventional in structure and tone.

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