Magazine article World Literature Today

The Things We Don't Do

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Things We Don't Do

Article excerpt

Andrés Neuman. The Things We Don't Do. Trans. Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia. Rochester, NY. Open Letter. 2015. 190 pages.

Some books demand a slow reading, requiring a period of acclimation. We pick them up in intervals, glimpse their interiors with trepidation. Such is the case with Andrés Neuman's newly translated The Things We Don't Do. The Argentine author is not so much writing fiction as he is testing out philosophical theorems by creating stories. There are thirty-four of these experiments, most of them shorter than five pages, all more complicated than they first appear though not necessarily difficult to read. The best of them leave the reader lighter and amused.

Imagine if Lydia Davis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Donald Barthelme spawned a literary child; we might get musings such as these. Take, for example, the story "The Poem-Translating Machine," in which a poet is dissatisfied by a translation of one of his poems and sends it to another poet to translate to see how the two compare. Then he sends it to another poet, and another, obsessively, like a game of telephone, grumbling as each version comes back slightly different from the last. Neuman seems to enjoy turning almost any situation into a psychological cat-and-mouse game, as he does in the story "Juan, José," a story that alternates between the points of view of the eponymous men, each professing to be a therapist, insisting the other is his client. This back-and-forth leaves one guessing at who the "real" therapist may be. …

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