julio-cortazar

Whether considering the ways in which his fragmented novel Hopscotch, which offers multiple narratives for the reader to consider, has influenced contemporary literature, or simply savoring the levels of description offered by his more grounded work, it’s hard to dispute Julio Cortázar’s importance to twentieth-century literature.

Earlier today, Tor.com posted a newly-translated story of Cortázar’s, titled “Headache.” Translated by Michael Cisco, the story follows a group of people caring for mysterious creatures called mancuspias. Those involved in this labor fall victim to a number of surreal physical and mental ailments, and the entire narrative has a powerful sense of unease about it.

One of us has been experiencing an intermittent Pulsatilla phase, that is to say, exhibiting symptoms of volubility, moroseness, exactingness, and irritability. This comes on at dusk, and coincides with the Petroleum stage that affects the other, a state in which everything—things, voices, memories—roll over one, as the sufferer becomes tumescent and stiff. There is no conflict between them, it’s hardly comparable to the other, and tolerable enough. Afterwards, sometimes, sleep will come.

The whole thing proceeds along ominously, growing more nightmarish as it establishes the quotidian rhythms at the story’s heart, and gradually revealing the fundamental strangeness of its setting.

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