By Geoff Wisner
Published in January by Small Beer Press, Three Messages and a Warning brings together thirty-four of what the editors call “contemporary Mexican short stories of the fantastic.” Each of them is freshly translated, and many of the authors have never appeared before in English.
The collection, edited by Eduardo Jiménez May and Chris N. Brown, has no less than three introductions. In the first of them, cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling points out that Three Messages and a Warning lacks some of the stereotypical Mexican trappings that American readers might expect, including tequila, ponchos, and masked wrestlers.
“Instead,” he writes, “there are ghosts, mermaids, mutant fireflies, alien vampire bats … an obsession with buried treasure that leads a man straight to hell, an artist who vanishes into her own painting, an eerie plague of urbanized lions….”
As this description suggests, these stories of the fantastic are less dependent on ingenious plots and advanced technology than their American counterparts. Many of them strike a note of nostalgia or melancholy. Many of them take place in a twilight realm of ambiguity.
Some of these stories are short enough to qualify as flash fiction. “Rebellion” by Queta Navagómez paints the heartbreak of a forsaken mermaid in less than a page. “The Mediator” by Ana Gloria Álvarez Pedrajo takes only a few lines more to describe a man haunted by souls in purgatory.
“The Stone” by Donají Almedo is a little over two pages long. Each day in a local plaza the narrator watches a young woman who wears an ornamental comb in her hair.
Later, kneeling down, you cleared away the weeds and garbage with your hands. It seemed as if you were someone other than yourself. You did not stop until you had cleared away a semicircle in the middle of the snail-like plaza and your hands were bleeding. You were running away from something. On that occasion there were no good-byes. After that day I did not see your eyes again for three weeks. The plaza exuded sadness, and my melancholy scared away the birds, which preferred to abandon their fragile nests to fate.
By the end of the story we understand that the narrator is an oak tree — but the story holds a second and larger mystery. Like many of the other stories in this remarkable collection, this one does not find it necessary to explain the inexplicable. Instead it explores the emotional shadings of its characters' fate.
Published Feb 7, 2013 Copyright 2013 Geoff Wisner