Cultural Studies Leuven

Another way of telling

By Jan Baetens

On: Frederick Luis Aldama, Long Stories Cut Short. Fictions From the Borderlands (Tucson: Arizona University Press, 2017, ISBN: 970816533978)

Long Stories Cut Short. Fictions From the Borderlands is an amazing book and probably also the most direct, honest and useful book that I’ve recently read. Content-wise it looks very simple: a collection of “flash fictions” (ranging from the one-sentence fictions à la Augusto Monterroso to very dense, but always very legible, one or two page stories) on the “Latino experience” (that is the bilingual and bicultural life of those crossing all kind of borders from South to North in a multimedia and multilayered world), without any concession to the naïve and sentimental utopias that continue to litter our perception of the harsh reality. Aldama’s prose is in your face and Long Stories Cut Short is amongst the most depressing books one can imagine. A welcome reply to all romantic views on the land of milk and honey (“She might be able to go home, the doctor announces. /He can only think: Hurry up and die.”, p. 171).

At the same time, the book is a great example of what literature today can or should be: an attempt to shape –which signifies: reshape–  modern life with modern means. Aldama thus brings into dialogue form and content: his borderland prose is not a matter of themes, it is also a matter of textual materiality, his book offering all fictions in two versions (English and Spanish, with no hierarchy between – they are independent and equal versions of each other) as well as in two media (the Chilean Mapache Studios have illustrated in comics style for most of the stories, and this image becomes a mirror story itself). Moreover, the author –a well-known specialist of narrative studies, who has the courage to start writing himself (like many others, he could have made a career by writing fifty articles on free indirect style in Jane Austen) – manages to change the genre he explores. His flash fictions do not only push the genre beyond its usual limits (the diversity of tones, styles, techniques and scopes is impressive), they also offer a complete rethinking of the nature of flash fiction once it appears in a collection. For Long Stories Cut Short is much more than a book of very short stories, it is an encyclopedia of the borderland experience. It does not rely on simple tricks such as the recurrence of characters and places in various stories –an easy way to bridge the gap between the part and the whole–but rather it manages to build a world in which the parts do not fit together –as they don’t in the real world either.