Duncan, Cynthia. Unraveling the Real: The Fantastic in Spanish-American Ficciones. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2010. 264 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4399-0240-0.
Duncan's book is one of the volumes in the recently created American Literatures Initiative, a collaborative publishing project among several university presses. Having written rather extensively on the fantastic, the author brings together in this volume a number of previously published pieces in addition to much new material. The book is organized thematically across seven chapters. The extensive introduction discusses the genre of the fantastic in Latin America, but also places it within a comparative global context. Understandably, there is considerable discussion of Todorov's theory of the fantastic, and specifically of the influence and reception of
Todorov in Latin America. Furthermore, there is useful discussion on the differences between magical realism and the fantastic, which students will find particularly helpful.
Chapter One covers the fantastic in Spanish-American modernismo demonstrating that authors of this period used the fantastic as a counterdiscourse to the prevailing positivist writing of the period. Duncan shows how authors such as Leopoldo Lugones, Ruben Dario, and Horacio Quiroga created stories that were not merely flights of fancy, but ideologically challenging and sophisticated narratives. Her reading of such classic stories as "Yzur" by Lugones and "El almohadon de plumas" by Quiroga provide insight not only into these particular stories, but into a generation of writers and period of history that solidified Spanish America as a major literary force.
Chapter Two looks at works by Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, and Jose Emilio Pacheco, specifically examining the relationship among readers, writers, and texts. The chosen stories have in common that they are all self-referential in nature, and are therefore focused on the process of writing and the exercise of reading. Chapter Three also offers readings of Borges and Cortazar, in addition to Carlos Fuentes and Elena Garro. The readings in this chapter explore the intersections of the fantastic with history, revealing how interpretations of historical events lead to the formation of identity. While the prevailing literary device in these stories is time travel, in Chapter Four the focus is on the fantastic and psychoanalysis. In reading stories by Cortazar, Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares, Duncan shows how the trope of the double is used in these narratives to examine the workings of the unconscious. There is a decided focus here on language; more to the point, the insufficiencies of language.
Chapter Five is perhaps one of the most innovative in the volume. Here Duncan maps for the reader the often overlooked relationship between fantastic literature and gothic romance. By analyzing the novellas Aura by Fuentes and La ultima niebla by Maria Luisa Bombal, she provides gendered readings of these texts that problematize feminine desire, romantic love, and sexuality. …