Wednesday, 29 April 2009

32. Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 'One of These Days' (1984)

Once cited by Paul Morley as one of his favourite short-stories, particularly suitable 'for those with short attention span', this is one of the shortest of shorts I have read thus far; less than 1000 words.

This magical realist author here focuses on a brief episode entirely realistic, but carrying a charge beyond its seemingly modest confines. It contains resonances for me of Harold Pinter's short and harrowing political play One for the Road, and is from the same year of 1984, pivotal in many ways. Pinter's underrated play has grown more timely by the year, with waterboarding, extraordinary rendition and other such pursuits by the US coming to light. As with Pinter's polemic, the country is unspecific, stressing the transnational nature of torture and oppression; they can be carried out by Western governments if transplanted to a 'safe' country. Aurelio Escovar, the 'dentist without a degree', clearly marks this out as being in South America, but it is never made specific, making the point that this could be anywhere.

In this torture scenario, the tables are turned here; the dentist, through line of work, has power over the oppressive mayor, and is able to exact pain through his work, extracting a tooth. There is the chance for a larger revenge on the Mayor, but he does take it, staying true to medical codes of practice. There is not rancour but 'a bitter tenderness' in his voice when he spells out the situation: "Now you'll pay for our twenty dead men".

It all ends on a rather obviously portentous note with the Mayor's statement that the town and himself are practically the same thing. It is a relatively slight vignette, unable to move or shock or point out folly in quite the same way as One for the Road; but then that was a piece of theatre with sets, lighting, actors and forty minutes to play with. This, in its 918 words, has to go down as one of those short-stories that impresses me, but does not inspire; I can see what he is trying to do and it works, to an extent.


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