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A Russian Doll: And Other Stories by Adolfo…

A Russian Doll: And Other Stories

by Adolfo Bioy Casares

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She must have just finished reading one of the short stories in this Adolfo Bioy Casares collection. Her expression certainly captures my reaction reading each of these imaginative twist-at-the-end tales. To provide a taste of what I mean, I'll focus my review on a 3-page snapper that really, really shocked me with its ending. Spoiler Alert: I disclose the ending.

Family Tensions: The narrator’s son lives at home with his wife and four children, the oldest an eleven-year old son and the youngest, a two-year old little girl, Margarita. At one point in the recent past, the narrator is reproached by his son, the son saying how he, his father, always had everything in life go too smoothly and success come too easily. The narrator is concerned, sensing resentment in his son’s words. Although I have never been reproached in this way (accused of having a too smooth life and too easy success – you must be joking) as a grandfather I can empathize with the narrator – he desires to live in harmony with his family.

Many Faces of Success, One: The narrator, let’s call him Juan, at one point broaches the topic with his daughter-in-law, saying how there is something repellent about success. His daughter-in-law, in turn, retorts by asserting success is perfectly natural; success is the natural result of work well done. Juan replies by noting that success always involves a degree of vanity as well as vulgarity. No, no, she says, it is not success but the desire for success that has an element of vanity and vulgarity. She goes on to assert that condemning success appears excessively romantic. Sounds like his daughter-in-law is a sensible woman; she certainly isn’t resentful of her father-in-law’s success. But then again, the resentment of a less than successful son for an overachieving success-driven father is all too common, fathers who are the pinnacle of success in the eyes of society - company executives, lawyers, doctors - come immediately to mind.

Many Faces of Success, Two: Juan remains unconvinced. Why does he feel guilty? Juan reflects back on his life: all the chemistry books and years of arduous study; all the long days and late nights in the pharmaceutical laboratory. He raised a family, owns his own house and has always earned a good income. True, a number of his formulas resulted in common balms and ointments sold at corner drug stores, but then again, he came up with something really helpful: Iron Plus. I can appreciate Juan’s mixed feelings about his success. I recall years ago speaking with a company chemist in the food industry who told me the crowning achievement of his twenty-five year career with the company was coming up with a very well-marketed creampuff. Now, that’s something worthy of years of professional devotion. Goodness.

Poor Margarita: Juan’s daughter-in-law is concerned for daughter Margarita’s health - Margarita has very little appetite for food. She turns to her father-in-law. Juan’s heart goes out to his beautiful little granddaughter, poor Margarita with her blue eyes and golden hair, so pale she looks very much like those 19th century engravings of little girls who, tragedy of tragedies, joined the angels at a tender age.

The Hero: Grandpa to the rescue! Now Juan has the most serious motivation in his career to develop a formula to restore the little granddaughter he loves with all his heart. And all his blood, sweat and tears pays off – he comes up with a formula he is sure will do the trick. I can imagine the proud grandpa. Happy day!

Turnings: Ah, Success! Four daily spoonfuls was all little Margarita needed. In a few weeks his granddaughter was brimming with radiant good health; her body filled out and she displayed a healthy appetite. Well, actually, more than just healthy - a somewhat disturbing voracious appetite. Margarita demands food as if there is no tomorrow and if her mom and dad do not immediately meet her demands, she attacks with fury. What? Yes, you read that correctly – little Margarita attacks with fury.

Guilty: Here’s the story’s ending in the author’s own words: “This morning at breakfast time, in the dining room, a spectacle awaited me that I won’t forget easily. In the center of the table sat the little girl with a croissant in each hand. I thought I noticed on her blonde doll cheeks a coloration that was too red. She was smeared with jam and blood. The bodies – or remains, rather – of the family rested against one another with their heads together, in a corner of the room. My son, still alive, found the strength to pronounce his last words: “It’s not Margarita’s fault.” He said this in the same reproachful tone that he always used with me.”

Adolfo Bioy Casares of Argentina

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  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
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