The Master of Short Forms
Had García Márquez never put any of his novels to paper, his shorter fiction would have still gained him some niche in literary history. Already in 1967 the Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti was to observe that “some of the stories gathered in Big Mama’s Funeral can be considered among the most perfect instances of the genre ever written in Latin America.”1 We might venture yet further and say that those pieces, along with the novella No One Writes to the Colonel and many of the stories collected in Innocent Eréndira and Strange Pilgrims, put García Márquez in the company of such acknowledged masters of short fiction as Chekhov, Mann, Joyce, Cheever, Alice Munro, or Grace Paley.
The author cites Hemingway as the chief influence on his own story writing. The admission is borne out by the pieces themselves, with their spare, minimal prose that captures life’s little disturbances and moments of solitude, evokes major emotion in a snatch of dialogue or in the slightest of gestures. García Márquez remarked in 1950 that “the North Americans… are writing today’s best short stories” (OP, 1:324), and Hemingway in this regard served him as much as mentor as did Faulkner and Woolf for his longer works. Particularly influential was Hemingway’s “iceberg” theory of the short story—often cited by García Márquez—whereby the author makes visible only one-seventh of what is to be communicated, the other six-sevenths lying implicitly beneath the narrative’s surface.
The stories offer pleasures of a sort different from those we know from One Hundred Years of Solitude. They are miracles not of mythic sweep but of understatement, conjuring up as they do the subtle, small-scale, mostly interpersonal upsets and triumphs of common village folk—the sleepy priests, pool-hall souses, provincial wheeler-dealers, troubled but stouthearted women, and the abandoned, the mismatched, or the bereaved. In later pieces, García Márquez will emerge with his visionary side full-grown and include fantastical materials—a wizened angel or a ghost ship. But there is a key element never absent from the Colombian author’s stories, be they “magical” or realistic: the climate of his world. Every one of these short pieces has at least a reference either to the intense daytime heat or the tropical rain and its