Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Peculiar State – single short story

Thought-provoking short story by
South American writer 
Patricio Pron

In this thought-provoking story, The Peculiar State by South American, Patricio Pron, we’re introduced to the world of a lapsed writer living in Homburg with his statistician girlfriend. 
Unnamed, the protagonists are simply referred to as he and she – which lends the story a bare, stripped down essence. 

Although once a successful novelist, the muse hasn't visited for some time and he spends his days as a “creative consultant” answering questions on his first impressions of chocolate and other mundane objects, trying to get as far away as possible from the problems of “the death of the novel and the peculiar state of the short story”.   

But the real meat of the story takes place when he and his girlfriend go away to various foreign cities to play a game the girlfriend has made up. They go to the same city – but travel separately, stay in separate hotels – neither knows where the other is. The game consists in finding each other in these European cities – deducing where each might go, based on their own interests, and of course, knowledge of each other. In many ways it’s a dangerous game – what if they don’t find each other in these places and return home alone, having failed? The consequences would be serious: it means they don’t know each other as well as they would have hoped – and what does that, in turn, mean for their coupling?

“She remembers something he said to her one day, maybe after the first or second they’d played their game: that the day they can’t find each other is the day on which everything between them will be over... She realises she’s about to cry because she feels herself capsizing from within.”   

The story is shot through cleverly with a number of statistics – referencing the girlfriend’s interest in the subject – which also has inspired the game. What are the probable statistics that they will find themselves in such and such a city, for instance? This is a question with more meaning than recounting such obvious facts as: “women cry an average of 5.3 times a month; men 1.4” or that he is part of the 41 percent of the German population that hasn't read a single book in the last three months.”

In this story the couple go away to Berlin – searching for each other over the roughly a week they are there? But what happens if they can’t find each other? Is the “losing game” as she’s thought of dubbing it, a way back into their relationship, or a chilling arrow pointing out something more sinister in their relations?

This short story throws up so many questions and possibilities about the probabilities in our lives, the people who are there in it, or not, and whether numbers on a page, those endless statistics should really be used to measure our happiness and progress through life.

This endlessly interesting and inventive short story comes from Pron, one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists and the author of a debut novel, My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain, described as a daring and deeply affecting story of one Argentine family’s buried secrets. When a young writer returns home to visit his dying father, he finds himself drawn into an obsessive search for a local man gone missing.

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