Landscapes of a New Land

Landscapes of a New Land: Short Stories by Latin American Women Writers, edited by Marjorie Agosin, was published in 1989. Divided into three sections, the book features twenty-two stories from ten Latin American countries. The stories themselves are peppered with magical realism and themes such as religion, family, and the grotesque. Not all of these stories are great though, in fact some of them I think are downright bad, but the ones I like I really like and I think the collection is definitely worth picking up. Below are my summaries of my favorite stories from the collection appearing in the order they do in the book.

“Solitude of Blood” by Marta Brunet is about sixty pages in and it was the first story that really grabbed my attention. Incidentally it’s also the longest short story in the whole collection. I have a bit of a predisposition towards grotesque themes, but I feel like Marta Brunet really captures the emotional distress of the housewife in a way that’s vivid, but not dogmatic. The characters in the story aren’t named, which I really enjoy, they are just the man and woman or the husband and wife. The major thrust of the story is that the woman lives with an emotionally detached man who, despite her earning an independent income, doesn’t allow her many creature comforts. The only personal possessions she has, aside from clothing of course, are a phonograph and a single record. The woman basically focuses her entire life on the phonograph because nothing else makes her happy, there’s a lot of emotional back story here that I’m not going to go into. One night a rude visitor tries to take the phonograph from her and she ends up fighting him. The phonograph breaks in the struggle and the woman runs away. She’s bleeding heavily from a facial wound she got during the struggle and she ends up laying in a field outside her house, waiting to die. As she lays there she has an epiphanic moment, realizing that no one would care if she died, but that she wants to live for herself. The ending is very open, she turns to “go home,” but it’s unclear what “home” is exactly. The symbolism and narrative structure of the story are amazing.

“The Compulsive Couple of the House on the Hill” by Carmen Naranjo is another oppressed housewife story, but, unlike the previous tale, this housewife stays oppressed her entire life. Really, the story is about two oppressed “normal” people, who are involved in political life, settle down, and have a monster of a son. The boy runs absolutely wild and the parents are distraught since he’s ruining them. Finally the father decides to kill the son, but as he resolves to the boy walks in and swears that he will change his ways. The boy, now a young man, follows in his father’s footsteps and runs for mayor, the office that his father holds. The son’s campaign is that he’s anti-his father and, as he wins the election by a landslide, the husband and wife take their first vacation ever. As the story ends the son marries a perfectly respectable submissive girl and, basically, becomes his parents, which is horrifying because they’re these dementedly repressed caricatures. It’s Stephen King level scary, people! It’s just that instead of monsters in an insane clown sense, Naranjo uses emotional abuse and creates monstrous people, which to me in much scarier than King.

“Jimena’s Fair” by Laura Riesco is great because it’s told from the perspective of a little girl and is executed quite well. The girl is part of an upper class business family that lives near a labor camp during an uprising. Everything is very ambiguous and Jimena is kept in the dark as her family frantically makes plans to flee the country. Resentful, confused, and completely confined, the story ends as Jimena runs away towards “the fair,” which is the way her imagination sees the explosions coming from the war zone. It’s really well written and the way that a child was used to express this frustration at being confined but not knowing why is done extremely well. In a non-symbolic reading the realization at the end that a little girl is running into a combat zone because it is preferable to her home is very sobering and disturbing.

“The Servants’ Slaves” by Silvina Ocampo is just good old fashioned creepy and fun. There’s probably a lofty intellectual symbol laden reading that I could give, but the story is good without it. Basically it’s a very short story about the world’s best domestic who works for a woman who, for the duration of the story, is confined to bed. Every day people come by on the pretext of visiting the sick woman but in reality they are there to woo away the domestic. The domestic, who’s name is Herminia, deeply hates and is sickened by those who try and take her away from her mistress. Then, of course, those very same people end up dead. One after another, down they go, and it’s all like, “Is that maid killing them with her mind?” It’s just a good weird story, people.

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