Book: Segundo viaje (Second journey)
“Segundo viaje” isn’t exactly an official collection of Julio Cortazar’s stories, but it’s a book as it reached to me through a Serbian publisher, “Rec I misao”. This book contains selected short stories published in various books of his from 1951 to 1983. Selection included stories with elements of fantasy, but with ground deep in reality. The book was my first serious encounter with Cortazar, before that, I’d stumble to his stories in various anthologies. Later encounters include a wonderfunny silly but symbolic collection “Historias de cronopious y de famas” (“Stories of chronopias and fames”) of extra short stories, some of them featuring three kinds of imaginary creatures, some being new, postmodern encyclopedia entries or short tutorials of performing some everyday actions (the book was published here under the name: “A Handbook for singing and crying”), or collection of his stories with political mothives, lead by “Apocalypse in Solentiname”.
But the first encounter was decisive enough, as “Second journey” is a selection of the most finely written stories, where fantasy is often so subtly underlined in realistic setting that we don’t notice it until we’ve read the entire story, or even long ago after we’ve read the story, and the menacing presence, whether it is an unnamed creature, a real-life tiger or just character’s fate, brings the fine sense of horror.
Cook is opened by “Casa tomada”, (“Overtaken house"), an eerie story in which narrator and his sister are forced to leave their house room by room, as unnamed entities take them over. Every time, narrator and his sister are escaping their grip in the last moment, leaving all personal things behind them and barricading the door just before the entities are about to burst into the next room. Nature of attackers isn’t revealed all through the story, and all that is left is a kind of cold, heavy atmosphere, sense of danger but also sense of inevitable. The story has dream-like quality, as facts are never revealed, and neither is a nature of relationship between narrator and his sister; Feel you have when reading the story is something you might have felt in your dreams, terror and fear is a kind that might’ve just come from the nightmare, and you can’t quite put finger to what is it that you’re afraid of. But in fact, the story was inspired by a dream, and written in one breath after waking up, so it directly captured the dream. However, Cortazar often wrote stories quickly, without much planning or pre-drafting, without rewriting sentences, leaving things often as they came out of the typewriter, even if they might’ve been said easier and quicker. Aside from boosts of inspiration like this one, seems like he liked to boil ideas in his head rather than on paper. Dream or no, the “House” sets the right tone for the rest of the book.
But even if it wasn’t one of the best premises of Cortazar, the following story is; “Carta a una senorita en Paris” (“A Letter to one lady in paris”) is a story narrated by a young man invited to move into the Paris apartment of Andre, a lady from the title while she is away from town. As he tells us the story, he is carefully moving in, terrified with the idea that he’d ruin the personal order of things as Andre arranged them. Now, this guy is a nice guy, normal, just like any other guy. He only has one flaw: from time to time, he throws up a rabbit, a live little white rabbit, even cheerful rabbit considering that he has just been thrown up.
The problems begin when he moves in the apartment, when he starts to uncontrollably throw up rabbits, much more often than he usually does. This leads to ruination of the apartment and the ending that I won’t give out. It’s a story of how harmless little quirks, our little secrets, can ruin us.
“Bestiario” (“Beast house”) is a story that contains most of elements of Cortazar’s writing: tense, almost terrifying atmosphere: an incoming catastrophe that floats in the air, until it materializes in a culmination that is perhaps predictable, but only because it’s made inevitable; a premise that is weird, irrational, and yet put in a realistic, straight-faced surrounding. In a large house, a family lives together with a tiger. Servants carefully observe daily migrations of the tiger from room to room, and inform the family, so that they avoid the room in which the beast is at the moment. This tension between tiger and humans is translated to a tension between family members. The rest is in the shadow this idea.
A story called “No se culpe a nadie” (“Don’t blame anyone”), the shortest and possibly the wildest one, is about a man trying to put a sweater on, where sweater becames an instrument of execution, and his own hand turns against him and attacks him. It’s hard to explain but, again, it’s an entire battle happening under a sweater.
Then there’s “La puerta condenada” (“Baricaded Door”) story that I read once before sleep, and it scared me so much that it kept me awake the whole night; More than any horror film I’ve seen. Perhaps it wasn’t all that scary, perhaps I was just in the mood to be scaret; But then again, perhaps Cortazar could’ve taught horror writers a few things: for one, that there’s nothing more terrifying than unexplained. A man moves in a hotel room. He expects to find some peace and quiet so that he could work, but every night he’s interrupted by a baby’s cry from the next room. Rooms are separated by a door and he can hear the cry clearly even though door is hidden behind a big wardrobe, and then he hears fermale voice hushing the baby too. Next morning, he reports it to the porter. Porter says that the woman has been living in that room for years now. Hotel stuff talks with the woman, but the next night, he hears baby cry again…
Uh, uh, uh, I am very tempted to tell the end of the story but this time I’ll resist. This text seems to be toned as an advertisement for Cortazar, so I’ll keep up with that. Scare catches me at the last page, even though the whole dead-of-the-night atmosphere was keeping me at the edge of the bed.
“Las Menades” is a story about a classic concert, so good that the audience, in their admiration, fascination and blind love with the dignified orchestra – lynches the players. It’s a love so hard that it kills.
“En nombre de Boby” (“In Bobby’s name”) tells about a boy who lives with his mother and aunt. He dreams that mother is torturing him from night to night, and the whole situation is seen through aunt’s eyes. She manages to keep things in reality seemingly fine, but at night, in dreams, terrible things are happening – until… Well, until the ending.
“Queremos tanto a Glenda” (“We all like Glenda”) is a story to which we can relate. Glenda, famous actor is retired for a long time, good for a club of passionate (and very analytic) fans; When she decides to return to filmmaking, they are afraid that the perfect image that she build with her career so far would inevitable be ruined (because it’s so close to perfection that it’s impossible to match) so they decide to do the only logical thing. “Botella al mar” (“Bottle in the sea”) is a throwback to this story, in which Cortazar refers to similarities in his previous story with the biography of Glenda Jackson, and names a dosen more coincidences that relate him and Glenda. The list of real-life coincidences form a string that lets us believe that there is more than that going on; And yet, Cortazar’s story is still fiction, in that it’s mystifying is acted out by a postmodern writer who is amused at the things that fit each other so fine. Similar thought process was engaged in Thom Moorhouse’s story “White knight”, where a set of real coincidences mixes up with made-up coincidences till the total confusion.
“Texto el una libreta” (“Text in a notebook”) is another story, scary even though there’s less conventional horror in it than in any other; it’s probably the irrational reason and the hidden presence that stroke me as scary. Namely, a researcher notes how every day, number of people entering Buenos Aires subway is a few numbers larger than a number of people coming out. What could be interpreted as a slight inaccuracy of counting automates, triggers further investigation until he finds out about a whole underworld society that lives in metros and hallways, inexplicably getting larger by people joining every day.
“Segundo viaje” (“Second journey”) is another exemplary story: there’s such small hint of fantasy in it, so that we can interpret it as a set of coincidences, or a terrible premonition. A young boxer strings victories one after another, until he realizes that he’s retracing steps of the older boxer, the idol from his home town. It leaves him wondering whether he is to retrace steps to the full, together with the loss and tragedy in the end, or that he’s there to finish what his precedent left unfinished.
There’s a bunch of other stories whose fantasy you can never quite catch; These stories you can believe in, they can happen, but then again, that’s probably the scariest thing of all. There’s a certain lack of story “Kirke” in which a young lovebird never realizes why previous fiancées of his girl have committed suicides, until the last page; But then again, I have that story somewhere on bookshelf too.