Tales of Love and Loathing (2010)
(Historias de amor y de odior)
Iñaki Ezkerra (1957)
Exposing all manner of human frailties and foibles, Spanish writer Iñaki Ezkerra’s collection of twenty short stories, Tales of Love and Loathing, entertain, even as they at times can hit a bit too close to home. Through the characters in his stories, Ezkerra reveals how thin the veneer of rational, sensible behavior can sometimes be: the risky desires that are difficult to quell; the little frustrations that threaten to boil over into relationship-ending dramas; the misunderstandings and obsessions that can grow to dominate a person’s life.
Already in the opening lines of the first story, Salinas de la Barquera, Ezkerra’s subtle yet unflinching satire of such behaviors is evident:
It is difficult to believe or explain, but he didn’t hear the explanation of why love between them was impossible. She had finally decided to confess this to him, but at just that exact moment a person passed by who reminded him of someone, there was a noise in the café and he became distracted. She gave him the longed for explanation in the seconds in which our man became lost in thought, asking himself who that guy sounded like. Of such mistakes is life made up. Like an old movie in black and white, full of cuts. Such is existence: full of fissures, breaks between some scenes and others that lead to incongruities, and which only give an uncertain sense, a doubtful unity, to our precarious permanence. How to fix it; how to explain to her that he had been distracted at a moment so serious, how to tell her without it becoming grotesque: “Could you repeat that?” And so the reason for why they couldn’t remain together, the major cause for why he would forever feel wretched and that the love of his life had no future was something that went lost like a car in a curve of reality and that two weeks after that ultimate date continued to mortify him. How to call her and tell her: “I have forgotten why you left me.” Or, how to not call her, and forever live without this thing that was missing in his history. Her absence made him ill, and to cure himself he decided to visit the town in which --- she had once told him --- she was born though had no longer frequented for years.As the man travels to his ex-girlfriend’s hometown, he descends ever deeper into a manic obsession, trying to achieve some murky attempt at closure and understanding in the relationship. That the trip doesn’t go well is hardly surprising; the allure of the story lies in Ezkerra’s captivating description of a man driven to folly.
That first story, like several others in the collection, concludes with a surprise revelation. These surprise endings are not so much the famed O Henry twist, as a final twist of the knife that Ezkerra has been using to reveal his characters’ damning irrationalities.
Such is the case also for Don’t Tell Me About Your Trip to Greece (No me cuentes tu viaje a Grecia), which concludes with a dramatic shift in tone, after a rather benignly satirical set-up. The story opens as the main character visits the home of a couple with whom he is friends, submitting himself to the yearly drudgery of hours of their vacation photos and films. This particular year his friends have just returned from Greece; as they present their many pictures and movies from the trip, they point out a Greek guitar play they met and befriended during the trip, and rhapsodize about how exciting it was for them to have him join the last part of their journey. The man soon discovers that there is more to the story of this Greek musician than meets the eye --- or his friends realize.
Regret over a rash comment leads to over-reaction in You Are so Authentic ( ¡Ustedes son auténticos!) in which a man recalls a summer trip to the beach with his wife and another couple. Early in the trip his wife complains about the food at a restaurant, in front of the owner. Feeling guilty about the outburst, the four end up eating there every night, constantly exclaiming to the owner how wonderful the food is --- only to make a shocking discovery toward the end of the trip.
Though such closing twists can add a bit of spice, in most of the stories Ezkerra satirizes our human weaknesses without such surprises.
In A Very Threatened Man (Un hombre muy amenazado), for example, a lawyer decides that his work has made him a target for Basque terrorists. He demands a bodyguard and buys a gun, ultimately retreating into a cage of self-importance that these security measures engender.
In Summering in Euskadi (Veranea en Euskadi), a man who enjoys bragging to his neighbors about his wonderful vacations is disappointed to discover one year that he and his family cannot afford to go on a trip. To not miss out on the pleasure he gets from talking about his family travels, he comes up with a low cost, if complex, substitute for the holiday trip.
In these and the other stories in this collection, Ezkerra turns every day human idiosyncrasies and irrationalities into full-on obsessions that come to dominate his characters’ thoughts and actions. As readers these behaviors may sometimes amuse and at other times appall us, but we remain wary of judging them too harshly, lest we turn a page and discover our own weaknesses among those on display.
Other reviews / information:
This book was published in Spanish; I have unfortunately not yet found an English translation of it. The English translations of the excerpt above, as well as the book’s title and the story titles, are mine.
Have you read this book, others by this author, or even similar ones by other authors? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.
Other of my book reviews: FICTION Bookshelf and NON-FICTION Bookshelf