From Publishers Weekly
These 10 stories underscore Marias's mastery of the surreal and evasive, but nobody will confuse this sampler of leftover stories with the author's best work. In the satisfying title story, an unnamed narrator, lying on the beach with his wife, can't stop speculating about the lives of another pair of beach goers: a much older man and a beautiful young woman named Inés. He eventually befriends the man, Alberto Viana, who confesses a desperate obsession with Inés, but Alberto's story doesn't satisfy the narrator, as it doesn't jibe with his invented scenario. The other longish story, "The Resignation Letter of Señor de Santiesteban," follows a young teacher named Derek Lilburn, whose new post at a prestigious school is jeopardized when he can't accept the existence of the story's title character, a benign ghost. Most of the rest of the stories feel under-developed, like sketches inspired by a clever idea, from doppelgängers to being stuck on an elevator. Marias (the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy) is a brilliant stylist and formidable intellect, but this haphazard collection does little to further his reputation. (Nov.) (c)
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Rarely do we see a recommendation to athletic readers contemplating scaling Remembrance of Things Past that they first engage in strength building through Proust’s short stories; and yet, would you attempt to summit Mt. Everest without first attempting similar climbs? Lacking a natural tendency toward consumption of multivolume fictions, one would do well to start with shorter works, whether it be long-ago Proust or the more recent, hefty three-volume Your Face Tomorrow (2007, 2008, 2009) trilogy by the acclaimed Javier Marías. Publisher New Directions provides us with this collection of shorter works written throughout Marías’ writing life, including his first published story, written at the tender age of 14. It serves the role of primer well, as it showcases the threads that wind through his other works—uncertainty of roles, of relationships, of having one’s own voice, and of choosing when to abdicate that voice. For readers new to translated fiction, this latter element serves both to entertain and to train for those longer works. --Matthew Tiffany