The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories Paperback – Jun 10 2004
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"As an author of the macabre and of nature, Quiroga redefined the borders of the fantastic, realizing that pure realism was an abomination of the marvelous and horrific reality of the Latin American jungle."Review: Latin American Literature and Arts
"Quiroga’s stories are, like Poe’s, full of psychological shocks and eerie effects, and are bracingly, if ruthlessly, realistic."New Yorker
About the Author
Horacio Quiroga (18781937) was a master storyteller and author of over two hundred pieces of Latin American fiction that have been compared to the works of Poe, Kipling, and London. Like his stories, his own life from his birth in Uruguay to his suicide in Argentina was filled with adventure, tragedy, and violence.
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The Feather Pillow, Sunstroke, The Pursued, The Decapitated Chicken, Drifting, A Slap in the Face, In the Middle of the Night, Juan Darien, The Dead Man, Anaconda, The Incense Tree Roof, & The Son
These are stories of death, violence, horror, adventure, talking animals, and magical transformation. There are a number of grotesque flourishes, especially in the disturbing title story. As a storyteller, Quiroga is comparable to Edgar Allan Poe of the U.S., although I believe his nearest Latin American soulmate is Virgilio Pinera of Cuba.
Some of the best tales in this collection include with the already mentioned title story; "Juan Darien," a magical story which begins "Herein is the tale of a tiger who was raised and educated among men. . ."; and "The Incense Tree Roof," an ironic tale about a beleaguered civil servant. Essential reading for those with a serious interest in Latin American fiction.
Quiroga is known for his economy of style and power of dramatic focus, rapid narrative, and dark view of mankind, often showing people motivated by greed, fear, anger, stupidity or a desire for revenge. Most of the stories in this collection involved violence, death, madness or horror. There were also several animal tales featuring dogs and snakes that talked. Many of the pieces were set in the torrid jungle of the Misiones district of northeastern Argentina, and showed man's inability to control nature and fate. Two were set in the city. Just one story in the collection had a conventional hero and happy outcome: a courageous woman rowed for hours against a raging flood to get help for a companion.
For me, the most interesting piece was "The Pursued," an early story containing the narrator's description of the gradual descent into madness of his intellectual acquaintance in the city. The interest came from the gripping description of the descent, and the fact that the narrator's comments suggested that he too was insane and contributed to the other's disintegration. Other good stories included the title piece, which showed children's terrifying powers of imitation in a way that won't soon be forgotten, and "The Dead Man" and "Drifting," about the rage to live against approaching death. The illustrations commissioned for the edition of the book I read were also well done and contributed to the stories' atmosphere.
Some of the pieces had some affinities with magic realism, if that means the use merely of the bizarre or supernatural. His works weren't magic realism in the sense of use of nonlinear, parallel plots, unusual shifts in time and space, creation of a mythical place, or heavy borrowing from myth, legend and dream. The stories included in the collection were very linear in narrative and didn't distort reality in intensifying it. His work may be related to magic realism in the same distant way as an author like Ambrose Bierce or many writers of horror stories are related to it.
A minor criticism of this anthology might be that the atmosphere of virtually unrelieved doom and darkness got a bit oppressive after awhile. I would've liked to read additional stories by this author in this short, 160-page collection to see whether he was capable of a greater range. Within the fictional territory included in this short book, he was powerful. I'd agree with other readers that his writing is important for readers interested in Latin American fiction, particularly the short story.
Another collection in English of the writer's work is The Exiles and Other Stories, produced in 1987 by the same publisher. It focuses more on the atmosphere of the Misiones jungle and the various characters who inhabited it, and less on the intense atmosphere of dread, the supernatural and the bizarre.