Anastasia’s Toes is the recently published selection of short stories by Mario Flecha, a writer already known by many of our readers. Here we tell you why this witty and darkly humorous book deserves a much wider readership
In his famous Tractatus, Wittgenstein suggested that the function of language is to produce meaningful propositions which are pictures of a state of affairs or, as he called them, atomic facts. This analogy of language mainly as a provider of images is more than appropriate when talking about the short stories of Mario Flecha. For years he published an edited the contemporary art magazine Untitled, he is also an art collector and currently produces and curates The Biennial of Jafre, a small, sleepy town deep in Catalonia with less than 400 inhabitants that wakes up from its cultural slumber every time Flecha and his artistic guests invade their midst.
Anastasia’s Toes is Flecha’s first publication in English. It contains a dozen short stories plus a brief selection of haikus by his homonymous Brazilian poet but Canadian resident who writes also under the name of Mario Flecha and has already published five books of poetry. Coincidentally, this peculiarity of doppelgangers plus assumed identities is one of themes explored in the short narratives of this enjoyable and delightful book.
After residing in London for such a long time, it is not surprising that most of the stories fluctuate between specific locations either in London or Buenos Aires. Eight of the twelve stories start with one, and in a couple of cases two epigraphs. It is as if these quotes, varying from John Berger’s Way of Seeing to fragments of Perón’s conversations or musings by Lebanese photographers, serve as the actual frames where the painted images of Flecha’s literary imagination are created on the canvas of the blank page.
But what kind of world is depicted for us? Well, one in which the fate of many of its characters depends on chance and random as much as anything else. It is not a work of superstitions or moral obligations -moral and ethical considerations are somewhat set aside whenever a destiny is imposed upon us- but of strange oracles and foreshadows. There is the character who reads his final destiny in a book about lazy painters where the location and name of his nemesis are both mentioned. Another one decides to avenge an atrocious act of war and his wishes are granted without him having to perform the murderous act but not before giving us a fascinating account of the different colours of death. There is a young émigré with a theory for seducing women in the Tube -in itself an act of pure fiction some might say- which is proved right but not to his benefit. And in one of my favourite stories, a man is “castrated twice” by his beautiful nuclear scientist girlfriend; first by abandoning him and precipitating the arrival of his sexual impotence as a result of that rejection, and then by throwing away the “magical” brick that he keeps under his bed and helps him to become aroused when he touches it.
But what makes these stories so pleasurable to read in spite of their supposed dark materials of death, revenge and deception is both their mischievous humour and cultural references. Reading Anastasia’s Toes I was reminded of a character in Hundred Years of Solitude who, towards the end of the novel, declares that literature is the best invention ever made to tease people. I read with glee how the cantankerous and narcissistic writer José Diodemes of Beware of Photos accepts to be photographed against a badly printed poster of a portrait of Sebastian de Vernier in The Battle of Lepanto by Tintoreto, moments before something extraordinary happens. It must be also noted that the three-man-team doing the photo session includes Juan the Elder and Juan the Younger as if we are seeing a parodical representation, although historically inaccurate, of a Henry VIII’s portrait painting by the two Holbeins.
There are also the happy encounters of aphoristic “truths” that Flecha sometimes inserts in his narrative. For instance Schuman, the German, drinking and talking to Javier, the trapeze artist, declares “It occurred to me that people applauded in protest at your refusal of giving them the privilege of seeing you fall.” or when another character affirms that “the best way to seduce an English woman is with a cat under your arm” and equally “the only objective of tourism is to tire oneself out”. These witticisms together with their reference to literature, paintings and real political events offer not only an element of intelligent immediacy to the reader but also expand the historical landscape of the stories told.
Finally, I ought to comment on the actual translation of these stories since I read some of them in their original Spanish. If you are a Spanish speaker who loves English literature or an English reader with a penchant for romance languages this translation will offer you the joy of its latinised English. It is not often you encounter words such as “parallelepiped”, “humouredly”, “espadrilles”, a breeze that blows “languidly” or how “winter and then spring appeared gingerly ceding to summer.” It has the flair of simultaneously inhabiting two different cultural worlds and their contrasts and contradictions are in no small part one of the central narrative devices of these stories.
In short, an enjoyable and highly readable collection of short stories whose main but humble and laudable aim seems to be to tickle our wit without forgetting to entertain us. Buy this book and read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Anastasia’s Toes by Mario Flecha is published by El Ojo de la Cultura and Jafre Project.
Register for its free on-line launch on 4th March @ 7pm. Book a place at https://revistaperronegro.com/evento/