Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Shorts, segun TIme Out NY


By Alberto Fuguet, translated by Ezra E. Fitz.
Rayo, $12.95 paperback.

Almost a decade ago, Alberto Fuguet—along with other young pan-Latin writers such as Edmundo Paz Soldán, Rodrigo Fresán and Jorge Franco—cooked up the idea of the McOndo movement, a group spread across Latin America who were more influenced by the globalized pop culture of McDonald's and Mac computers than by García Márquez's magic-realist world of Macondo. Since then, Fuguet, the group's true ringleader and impresario, has been putting on a show. His rollicking first novel, Bad Vibes, is a sort of Bright Lights, Big City set in Santiago during the Pinochet dictatorship. His follow-up, The Movies of My Life, is a novel devoted to cheesy films from the '60s and '70s that, through its clever arrangement of memories and associations, manages to build to an emotional crescendo.

His new book of linked stories, Shorts, is another provocative, genre-splicing work. Again, Fuguet bounces madly between high and mass culture; his straightforward narratives modulate into TV-sitcom dialogues, made-up magazine Q&As or notes for a film-in-the-making. This inventiveness often becomes surprisingly powerful. In stories like "Unseeing Eyes," "Truth and Consequences" and "The Magic Hour (Matinee, Vermouth and Night)," the author casually stumbles upon moments of great revelation about global migration and the psychic unease of rich citizens in poor countries, whom he calls "the most solitary, disconnected and sad people on the planet." Above all, he evokes a smog-bound Santiago that has seeped into the soul of his wayward characters, whether they're on a Kerouac-like road trip through the Southwest, holed up in a Hollywood Denny's or just trying to fade into the anonymous night in Chile. "In a country of the disappeared, disappearing is easy," says the drifter narrator of the very-short story "Lost." Prepare yourself for more from Fuguet: He's only begun to mine two American continents for material.—Anderson Tepper