Atrapar el sol / Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga

Catch the Sun

Combates (1995-2000) is the first volume with which the publishing house Candaya began the publication of the complete short stories of Ednodio Quintero (1947). The rest of Quintero’s short fiction will be collected in the book Ceremonias (1974-1994). Combates gathers the short stories of this Venezuelan writer’s maturity.

On my first night in Mérida, I dream that I wander the mountain on horseback, as though I were a character in a short story by Ednodio Quintero. I descend from the plateau that was a legend he narrated. I descend amid the high mountain sides, as if returning through the years I’ve known him and read his work. On the summit of El Águila’s peak stands the Plaza de Madrid, where I found him as though he had lived in all the cities and all the books. He gave me a copy of his novel La danza del jaguar, and since then I’ve traveled in that dance.

There are writers with no world, architects of their inventions. There are others who spread out over hills of pages, dreams and people, unfinished demons, inhabitants of an internal country that can only belong to the person who governs or is governed by it. This is the case with Ednodio Quintero. His literature is unique.

Let’s look at Combates, the first volume of his complete short stories fortuitously published by Candaya, that gathers texts written between 1995 and 2000, divided into three sections, the first two from previously published books: “El combate,” “El corazón ajeno,” and “Últimas historias.”

From the first story, we are surprised by the poetic prose that displays an updating of Symbolism for the 21st century, a narrative development of the findings of Ramos Sucre and Poe, a gallery toward the purest of literary molds, where consciousness and dreams merge. The stories in this first section seem to be connected to the telluric unconscious of existence, as though the writer’s hand transforms what is dreamed into nature or, by force of imagination and originality, a mythical territory comes alive in a primeval space, but one populated in an ultramodern manner. It’s as though one were to simultaneously read Kafka, Rulfo, Ray Bradbury and Poe’s metaphysical stories under a fabulist illumination that mixes the light from all of them but belongs only to Ednodio Quintero.

Mythical themes are revised, each one with its turn of the screw: birth, combat –and this one is a constant, the fight against something or someone external that is also an internal enemy–, the Luciferian and Miltonian fall, the Orphic descent to the infernos, with a vision that, approaching fantasy literature, also touches the naturalness with which the Greeks imposed the presence of their phantasmagoria. He comes close to it but he isn’t quite fantasy literature. Rather, his work resembles the allegorical vision of Melville or Kafka. The perspective is always contemporary, mature in its use of techniques by which the reader passes through buildings of the highest originality and beauty, as though in a late model sports car.

This technical ease also affects the structure of the stories in this volume that, thanks to their ingenious turns, manage to annul the difference between what’s dreamed and what’s lived, between unconscious fears and reality’s brutal actions: don’t miss “La casa” or, from the second section, “El corazón ajeno,” “El otro tigre,” or “Un rostro en la penumbra,” that, within the atmosphere of a Maupassant story, creates a version of the theme of otherness from a well-known story by Borges. But Borges hadn’t read Murakami nor had he learned the diagonal manner of receiving that other side of the fantastical and the disturbance that’s born in the shadow of hidden I’s, one never knows where, in some unconscious that belongs to all of us.

As if new. Ednodio Quintero has the gift of pure creators. When one reads “El sur,” the first story in the second section, one regains the enthusiasm of reading Jack London, Stevenson or, more recently, Guimarães Rosa, nonetheless receiving a type of magic that belongs only to the author of Combates. The structures of his stories flow while shuffling past, present and future, merged into a single time, the literary, where we can remain stable and surprised as we continue reading. Two affirmations by the narrator of “El corazón es ajeno” give us two important clues about Ednodio Quintero’s art: “A story, when presented to us as such, is always accompanied by a second intention like the bird and its shadow. Most of the time it’s unknown to the author.”

“A worthwhile story should contain within itself, in the manner of a paper kamikaze, the seed of its own destruction.”

These two lessons are found throughout the book up to its “Últimas historias.” These final stories seem to me to contain and conclude the range of the previous skills and themes.

“Ojos de serpiente” offers a version of the structure of “El otro tigre,” based on otherness and violence.

The intense eroticism that inundates the entire universe of his fiction is concentrated in “La hora del Ángelus,” whose voice reminds me of a Marqués de Bradomín with a high-precision clock.

“Una pelea con el demonio” unveils the crowd of the unconscious, making it stand up naturally in the form of plot and character.

The last story, “Owner of a lonely heart,” is linked by means of its poetic prose and its oneiric transcription to this book’s first dream, “Sobreviviendo” (a Kurosawa dream according to Gregory Zambrano; facing the dream produced by a Yes song).

However, I want to conclude with the penultimate story, “Un rayo de sol,” which was wisely removed from his novel Mariana y los comanches, because of its unique importance.

Ednodio Quintero once told me this book would gather his final short stories forever.

Were that the case, “Un rayo de sol” would be a testament, a secret passed down in the form and light of a spot of sun fixed on the floor, which a child’s hand tries to catch. The spot floats above the surface of the skin, never beneath it, a fugitive once again, a few centimeters away, as the hours pass. Space is sharp and time is slow. Life is evident and inexplicable, just like that disc of sun over the ground. The child’s hand tries to cover it, catch it. But he will never be able to in the story. He’ll have to wait for an adult hand, spent in many battles, that will decide to reinvent that instant by means of words capable of creating and bringing back reality itself. Only literature, a great literature like Ednodio Quintero’s, is able to trap the blurry disc of the sun floating over the floor.

{ Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 20 February 2010 }

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