Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: Law of Desire: Stories by Andrej Blatnik

First published:- 2000

About to be republished on (after being translated into English):- July 15th, 2014

Republished by:- Dalkey Archive Press

Star rating:-

Short stories are such a tricky thing to get right and such a hassle to review. 
Before you have even settled down into the comfort of one minor narrative, a new one with brand new settings is silently demanding your undivided attention. A tiny slip in your concentration could result in that elusive thread of some unnameable, intangible emotion that you are struggling to disentangle from the jumble of lives and internal monologues, zipping past you with the agile grace of an eel. 
And having turned over the last page, you are facing the difficult prospect of making out all the discordant notes from the individual stories and combining them into a common refrain which captures the general mood of the collection. Unless the author can profess to being at par with one of those world-renowned masters and mistresses of the short story format (Munro, Maupassant, Carver, Lydia Davis, Gogol and so on) who have got it down so pat that each one of their stories stand out and leave permanent markings etched on to the slippery sands of memory, he/she has an uphill task ahead. 

I can vouch for the fact that Andrej Blatnik's stories cannot be shoehorned into any known category of writerly acuity. There's no single overarching theme that strings the whole collection together. And not all the stories can be commended on their execution or even thematic clarity. While some of the short stories give off a surrealistic Italo Calvino-esque vibe by blurring the boundaries between real and absurd, some of the others remind me of Murakami with their efficient juggling of nameless, wryly witty narrators who shirk responsibilities, intriguingly secretive women and emotional isolation. The remaining deal with themes as varied as PTSD-afflicted, psychologically scarred young men returning from the battlefield, the beauty and terror of fatherhood, the tragedy of young children adjusting to a newly motherless household and even something as eerie and nihilistic as a runaway convict resigned to his fate of being turned into a human sacrifice in an African village.

"The man feels the open dome of the sky descending, embracing him, he senses the universe closing in, he smells the brittle tail of comets, the gravity of distant worlds brushes his cheek. Galaxies open up and beckon him in. The man knows: This is the beginning; this is just the beginning."

The stories seem to be weakly delineated on purpose, the characters having no qualities that make an impression worth remembering, their lives appearing to be hazy silhouettes that never truly come into focus, just remaining out of reach for you to draw your own conclusions, which is precisely how short stories should be. But there's something more which accentuates their uniqueness, a disorienting effect that Blatnik manages to induce in the reader - an all-too-familiar sorrow, a feeling of unfulfillment arising out of a failure to communicate, and the concomitant cruelty of everyday lives of people trapped in the labyrinth of the urban jungle.

So even though I had my mind virtually made up to go with a 3.5 stars rounded off to a 3, I am conceding another one in the hopes that an above-average rating will help this Slovenian writer gain a wider readership, especially now that he has been translated. He really does deserve all the attention he can get.

**I received an ARC from the Dalkey Archive Press via Netgalley**

Also published on Goodreads and Amazon.

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