A strange, if uneven, collection of short stories, probably best serving the interests of the Marías aficionado. This is not the volume I’d recommend to someone new to the author; I’m reluctant to recommend it to anyone who is familiar with the author. Some creepy mofos inhabit the mind of Señor Marías.
While the Women Are Sleeping—an island vacation reveals the difference between love and adoration; immobilization by prescience; a variation on a Lolita-esque theme.
Gualta—when a man meets his physical and behavioral doppelganger, he does everything he can think of to distance himself from his own biography.
One Night of Love—a husband in a passionless marriage reads love letters from his father’s mistress before he starts receiving letters from her himself. Fraught with possibilities: who is the mistress? who is his wife? what’s in the final letter? is there correspondence from the grave? Open-ended and satisfyingly complete.
Lord Rendall’s Song—a returning prisoner of war decides to surprise his wife by arriving unannounced after watching her through the windows of their home. This story seems incomplete, something missing or wrong. It lends itself to what other reviewers have considered the uneven nature of the stories. Rather than blame the JM, instead I rather wish I’d skipped this story. When the chips are down, I choose to be Switzerland.
An Epigram of Fealty—the manager of a used book store confronts a mendicant outside the shop who claims to be John Gawsworth, Juan I of Redonda, the previous owner of one of the valuable volumes on display in the window. I’m not certain how well this story works as a story; I am certain that it will be of interest to anyone trying to piece together the strands of the Redondan legend as presented in other JM works. If only toward that end, the story has archival value.
A Kind of Nostalgia Perhaps—a young woman grows old reading to an elderly widow and a ghost while fulfilling a prediction made by the widow. A confident story in the mature voice of JM, a story of confident tentativeness.
The Resignation Letter of Señor de Santiesteban— an English school teacher spends a year haunted, and insulted, by a ghost whose identity is in question, before exacting his revenge.
The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga—the titular narrator briefly describes the day of his death, the life that preceded it, and what his days have been like since. Remarkable in that the story was written when JM was just 14. After reading this rather bleak story, one might wonder if JM’s teachers encouraged his writing or sent a cautionary note home to his parents.
Isaac’s Journey— a nameless narrator ponders the fate of the prophesied, cursed, and unborn Isaac Custardoy. Custardoy is the art forger of A Heart So White, and I’m almost certain (as I haven’t yet read AHSW) that the character turns up in another JM title along with the story of his curse; a more dedicated reviewer would pursue this tidbit.
What the Butler Said—the narrator spends a half hour trapped in an elevator with a talkative butler who dabbles in black magic. Very cool.