This volume is my introduction to Cortázar, part of my 2012 Year of Discovering Latin American and Spanish writers. I have his novels on my horizon, and I'm itching to read them, but I thought starting with a short story volume would be a good introduction.
In the past, I have neglected short stories, in part because of an early preference for huge novels that I could escape in for days at a time. There may have been some elements of an introvert's frustration over getting to know a series of characters, only to say goodbye to them after 15 pages or so and to have to ready myself for meeting a whole new set of characters all over again. (Silly, I know - treating a short story collection as a literary cocktail party.)
I'm very glad that I've shaken off those earlier views, because I found this collection to be captivating. Cortázar destablizes our understandings of identity in every story. Characters merge into other characters. Boundaries, physical and psychic, dissolve in thin air. When reading the first story, Axolotl, I actually had a physical sense of my perspective shifting at a key point in the story, almost as if I were watching a film and visualizing an extreme change in perspective. Cortázar also is masterful at creating a surreal atmosphere of menace in many of these stories, which is all the more effective because the danger doesn't unfold all at once. It creeps up on the reader.
I have read other reviewers who discussed their confusion when reading many of these stories. Cortázar often uses a technique of jumping midway into his narrative and leaving it up to the reader to patiently hang on for the ride until he provides clues to piece together later in the story. If you're willing to play along with Cortázar, there's a game-like quality in many of these stories. For this reason, I recommend not reading it all at once from beginning to end. Some time between stories helps to increase the feeling of tension at Cortázar's approach.
This is a volume that begs for re-reading. I plan to revisit it soon.