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Cuentos para la medianoche.

Cuentos para la medianoche is a collection of forty shorts in which Cuban writer Luis Angel Casas attempts to transport his readers to the realm of the fantastic and fill them with dread. These miniature horror stories, which reflect the influence of Edgar Allan Poe and other masters of the genre, appeal to our primal fears--of the familiar turned bizarre, of sudden catastrophe, of the inanimate come to life, of monsters and madness. A few of these stories hit the mark.

In a clever coupling of the absurd and the grotesque, "El monstruo en el coche" parodies the traditional love-at-first-sight romance. The story's narrator is a lonely bachelor who becomes infatuated with a beautiful woman he frequently sees wheeling a baby carriage. When he finally gathers enough courage to speak to her, he learns that the carriage doesn't contain an infant at all, but instead, the woman's husband. In a series of accidents the husband lost his feet, legs, hands and arms. Hostile to a society that rejects and mocks him, the husband grows his hair into a long, tangled wad that leaves nothing visible but his eyes, giving him the appearance of a talking head. With time he becomes more and more antagonistic. Unable to bear his nastiness, the gorgeous wife has her new admirer bind him into a ball and dispose of him, after which the two lovers fall into a passionate embrace.

In "Escapado de la tumba", Casas builds tension by drawing the reader into a nightmarish labyrinth in which fantasy and reality become inseparable. A young man suffers from the recurrent dream that he has killed someone and is being pursued by the Law. No matte how he tries to cover his tracks, some piece of evidence betrays him. Unexpectedly, the dream comes true; the dreamer actually turns into a killer who is trying to elude the police. Now he dreams that he didn't murder anyone at all--only to awaken to the reality of his own guilt. Anxiety becomes terror when he reads that the man he murdered has escaped from the tomb! But then he realizes that if his enemy is in fact alive, no murder took place. As the character slips back and forth from dream to nightmarish reality, we lose track of which is which. Indeed, neither the reader nor the character himself is really sure whether the victim is dead or alive, even after the supposed killer is imprisoned. Uncertain of his own guilt or innocence, all the young man can do is wait--which turns out to be the most torturous agony of all.

The best of Casas' stories reach existential dimensions. However, most of these tales fall flat. Part of the problem is that they are too short. The author doesn't give himself enough time to develop his themes. He piques our curiosity and builds our expectations, only to end the story without explanation. For example, "El gran pajarero" begins with an elaborate description of Jacobo Daren, a fowler who teaches birds sing long and complex melodies. One day, without apparent explanation, his crows turn against him and poke out his eyes. Why? What did he do to provoke his charges' wrath? The author never tells us. The story, like most of the other stories in this collection, ends before it begins.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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