Cronopios and Famas

By Julio Cortázar

A vivacious variety of strange short works by master of the short and strange, Julio Cortázar.

I love Cortázar’s short stories, and his wonderfully mundane / absurd travelogue Autonauts of the Cosmoroute. His non-linear masterwork, the novel Hopscotch, is also high in the echelons of my antilibrary. This book seems to embrace its own kind of idiosyncracy, deft and light in tone.

It includes an “Instruction Manual” for enacted oddities — how to cry, how to sing, how to understand three specific famous paintings, how to comb hair, how to kill ants in Rome, and so on and so forth, a litany of absurd and delightful descriptions.

Also: one section cataloging “Unusual Occupations” of a family; another, entitled “Unstable Stuff”, collecting other odd short vignettes, sketches, and short (short!) stories. All of it playing with language and ideas, hypotheticals and dialogues.

The final, titular, section appears to be a kind of parodic mythology of weird characters and their weird behaviors: cronopios, famas, and esperanzas — are they human archetypes? Satire? Parable? Mystical creatures? All of the above? Like the rest of the collection they’re intriguing and disorienting; sui generis.

In sum, a collection of small gems, a parade of playful provocations, glistening, potent, both precisely cut and slightly unhinged.

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