Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Scary stories for a slow Wednesday...

If any of you out there enjoy Latin American fiction, or are fans of Edgar Allen Poe’s work, allow me to recommend the short stories of Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga. His tales are spooky and macabre like Poe’s, but often much more subtle and chilling. Often, they explore human psychology in the face of nature’s cruelty. As someone who was drawn to live in the jungles of northern Argentina, these settings come alive in his best stories. He was gifted enough not to go on and on about the trees and the sounds and the heat of these places; instead, he isolates one or two details that convey the mercilessness and terror of that wilderness and, in the space of a few words, brings you there beside his unlucky characters.

Speaking of unlucky characters, Quiroga’s life story makes Poe’s seem like a fairy-tale full of wonder and happiness. When he was a small child, his father died after accidentally shooting himself. Within the space of a few years, his stepfather would commit suicide and Quiroga himself would accidentally kill a good friend. Later, his wife poisoned herself. He remarried a girl thirty years younger than him, a friend of his daughters, but soon he was diagnosed with cancer. He swallowed cyanide and died in 1937, at the age of 58. Not a happy story by any means, and neither are the ones he wrote himself. But they are, in their own strange way, beautiful. You might have to hunt a little to find them in English translation, but it’s worth it.