Vol. XXIX , #2 Herman Melville's ; or The Whale
Edited by Damion Searls
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Microfictions, by Ana María Shua
Reviewed by Pedro Ponce
Trans. Steven J. Stewart. University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 196 pp. Paper: $19.95.
It's tempting to describe Ana María Shua as a writer of flash fiction; the longest piece in her Microfictions runs four pages, novelistic compared with many of the other selections, which can be as short as a few lines. But the more one delves into Shua’s alternate realities, the more one realizes how inappropriate the flash designation is, not just for the strongest pieces in this collection, but also for standouts by other practitioners of the genre. Shua’s fictions often work like Zen koans, compelling the reader to mull over paradoxes dramatized in a handful of suggestive sentences. In "Genie," the insomniac narrator wishes that the genie at his command could make his unsettling dreams not come true. In “Cast Out,” Adam and Eve are punished for their disobedience by being woken up from a shared dream. Divided into sections that coalesce around a different theme—such as “Monsters,” “Dreams,” “Men and Women”—Microfictions has the atmospheric unity of miscellanies such as Julio Cortázar’s Cronopios and Famas or Barry Yourgrau’s Wearing Dad’s Head. The connection to Cortázar is particularly strong in the absurdist instructions of a piece like “Bad Manners,” which consists in its entirety of two sentences: “If your chicken champignon takes off, leaving a trail of sauce on the tablecloth in its wake, don’t blame your guests. You can’t expect such an exquisite dish to tolerate your table manners.” The suppleness of the short prose form is further demonstrated in the section devoted to “Literature,” in which Shua reimagines elements of mythology, fairy tales, the Western, and other genres. Arguably, Shua also makes strides in genre theory. In designating her creations “microfictions,” she suggests their remarkable scale while hinting at the layers beyond the visible afforded by the possibilities of this still-emerging form.