By David Varno
Quim Monzó's "The Fork" and "Thirty Lines"
Quim Monzó's contribution of two stories to January's International Flash Fiction issue have been translated from Catalan by Lisa M. Dillman. Monzó's shorter narrative fiction was compiled for 2004's Eighty-six Stories, and he has written several other books. He has also translated Capote, J.D. Salinger, Bradbury, Hardy, Hemingway, Barth, and Miller into Spanish, and is a regular contributor to the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia. His journalism has most recently been collected in The Subject of the Subject (2003).
"Thirty Lines" appears to be another story for which the subject is the author's object of writing. A writer has been assigned a project that is constrained to thirty lines or less, and we are taken along with him through the process. But eventually we learn that this third person is a character, rather than an author-doppleganger, who Monzó manipulates in order to reflect on the nature of intent in fiction. Monzó's writer uses his last line to remind his reader that he can go no further: "with a not-wholly justified feeling of failure, [he] types the period at the end of thirty." But more is at stake (or is it less: "each new line is not one more line, but one less"), because the writer confesses that he normally writes at greater lengths in order to cover up the fact that he has nothing to say. It's not a pun on the flash fiction form, or a stab at the notion that constraints can better express any particular idea; it's a reminder of the question writers should ask themselves before setting down to tackle any form of fiction.
"The Fork" opens casually, as though its author considers it little more than a throwaway anecdote: "This takes place one radiant Sunday in April." But gradually the narrator's perception sharpens, as he lingers on specific details of a party he watches in a restaurant. His reflection highlights the multiple readings of what he observes, which makes this piece of flash fiction stay with the reader longer than usual.
Also see the story "I Have Nothing to Wear," from our October 2007 issue, translated by Josep Miquel Sobrer.
Published Jan 20, 2010 Copyright 2010 David Varno