I find it hard to believe that The New Yorker didn’t have available to it a few thousand stories more interesting than this one. Seriously. I feel like I’ve read this a million times. (A little hyperbole, come to think of it, would have done this story good.) Narrator meets Clara, a girl with big breasts, in Barcelona. He falls in love, she moves back to wherever she lives elsewhere in Spain, they correspond. (There is one good line: “I reached the conclusion that her epistolary concision was motivated by a desire to avoid grammatical errors.”) He goes to visit, she’s moody, he pressures her to move in with him, she breaks it off. They both move on but he doesn’t get over her. She has marriages and affairs and a child. He does, too, but they stay in touch. She gets cancer . . . There is some confusion about what happens. At one point the narrator says “We did, however, talk on the phone before she died.” But she doesn’t die, at least in the story. At the end she has disappeared and her husband and son don’t know where to, and neither does the narrator. Translation error? Or is this an excerpt from something? Or is it just bad?
One thing that is worth noting about this story—an aspect that is neither good nor bad, in my view—is that it is almost entirely told in summary, rather than scene. It’s retrospective, there is very little dialogue (hardly any that’s quoted directly, except for a phone call), and so it has no immediacy. This may have been a choice by the author, but the distance it creates leaves me decidedly unmoved by the story’s events.
August 4, 2008: “Clara” by Robert Bolaño