Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda

It’s been a while since I finished The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda, published by Open Letter Books, so details of individual stories are a little hazy, but overall, the collection impressed me. The stories are full of drama and passion, not at all like the quiet stories with small epiphanies that you find so often in American short fiction. I like quiet stories as well, but it was a nice change to have more action, more bright, vibrant characters and overpowering emotions.

Rodoreda is a Catalan writer who died in 1983; these stories come from three collections published in 1958, 1978, and one that (as far as I can tell) was collected after her death. These stories are published in chronological order, and become more experimental toward the end, moving toward a more impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness style. I was less taken with these stories than with the more realistic ones, but it was interesting to see her moving in new directions and experimenting with new styles.

Most of the stories are short; there are 30 stories in 255 pages, and some of them are only two or three pages long. Rodoreda captures a wonderful depth of emotion and life in such a short space. For example in the story “Ice Cream,” only a little over two pages long, a man and woman get engaged while eating ice cream but have entirely different responses to their engagement, responses that foreshadow years of unhappiness. The man cannot bear to be parted from his lover:

It was always the same: As the moment of parting approached, it seemed as if a bucket of sadness was being poured over him, and he would hardly utter a word during the time they had left together.

While she, on the other hand, feels trapped:

She spread her fingers to look at [the ring], stretched her arm out, and turned her hand from side to side. With secret regret she thought about her hand only a moment before, without a ring, nimble and free. Her eyes welled up.

There are many similar moments in these stories, moments when people can’t communicate their emotions or feel trapped by them. In one of my favorite stories, “Carnival,” a young man and woman meet unexpectedly on the street when she asks him, previously a stranger, for directions to the taxi stand. When they can’t find a taxi, they decide to walk. They are both in costume for the carnival, and there is a feeling of possibility and excitement in the air. They walk for hours as though they are in another, magical world. But the illusion of other-worldliness is destroyed when it begins to rain, they become exhausted, and are accosted by a man demanding money from them. The young man describes his disappointment with the night:

I wanted to make this evening … I don’t know how to explain … a night like this! I wanted a memory, something I could cling to, keep for the future. Because I will never take any trips, or write poetry. And it’s not true that I study. I used to, now I work. I have a younger brother and I’m head of the household. So, now you know it all. You also know what a bad impression I’ve made. I’ve made a fool of myself.

For her part, she is filled with sadness at his disappointment, but also wishes he would just disappear — his intensity is almost too much for her to take. Both of them are overwhelmed by the journey — a journey through the city but also a journey into their own hearts.

There is a wide range of situations, characters, and perspectives in these stories, but each one has an intensity to it that makes for exciting reading. I enjoyed these stories very much and am curious what her novel-length fiction is like.

10 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction, Short stories

10 responses to “Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda

  1. I’m curious about Rodoreda, and it sounds like this collection might be a good way to ease into her work without braving the extreme oddity/intensity of Death in Spring. I lived in northern Spain for a summer (although in Galicia – NW Spain – but I traveled a bit in Basque country), which makes me particularly eager to check out her stuff.

  2. Death in Spring is weird. Good, but really, really weird. As for this collection, I’d really like to read it. I love that description that these aren’t “quiet” stories, but rather are full of drama and action. I often feel like short stories leave me hanging because they’re mostly scenes – lovely, sure, but also boring. Maybe this collection will finally lead me to short stories I’ll actually like…?

  3. I so rarely read short stories, but I loved Scott Fitzgerald’s (completely different, all of them long, 20 pages or so) and have the new volume of Julian Barnes’s which I’m looking forward to. I have never heard of this author – I’ll have to see if she’s made it to the UK.

  4. This sounds like an interesting collection. I like quiet stories too, but sometimes they all start to sound the same and it is nice to have something different. Will definitley keep this collection in mind when I next find myself in the mood for short stories.

  5. I like shorter short stories. This collection sounds interesting.

  6. Emily — I know nothing of her other writing, but it does seem like it might be a good introduction. Your description of Death in Spring as odd and intense is certainly intriguing! How cool that you got to spend time in northern Spain. I can see why Rodoreda is an author you would want to read.

    Biblibio — interesting that you’ve read Death in Spring! Your description makes me even more curious about her. I wonder if it’s weird in a way I would like, or if I would find it frustrating. If you are on the look-out for stories you would like, this would probably be a good book to try.

    Litlove — I don’t generally read a lot of stories either, but this is my third collection in the last few months, and I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read. As far as short pieces go, though, they won’t replace essays as my true love! :)

    Stefanie — yes, variety is great, and this collection has a lot of it. I think she’s a great person to turn to for short stories — I hope you like her if you ever do read her.

    Lilian — it’s amazing what she can do in a very short space.

  7. I love short stories but read far too few of them (though am working on a collection by Daphne du Maurier). I’m impressed with an author who can do a good story in a very few pages as often they feel sort of unsatisfactory. I’ll have to see if my library has her work–especially if she does experimental fiction, which I find hard (a story with just a few pages seems totally manageable to me with experimental fiction!).

  8. Merce Rodoreda is a new favroite of mine after I read two of her novels, The Time of the Doves and Death in Spring . I haven’t learnt how to link review in comments. Her novels are definitely worth exploring. I love short fiction so will be reading this collection soon.

  9. I’d never heard of this author before and then Kinna wrote about her and now you did. Sounds like I’m supposed to find something and read it!

  10. Danielle — I agree that experimental fiction is a lot less scary if the work is short. And most of these stories are straightforwardly realistic, so this book would just give you a taste of that kind of writing. I agree that writing a short short story sounds very challenging!

    Kinna — how interesting that you think of those novels so highly! That makes me want to explore them and see how they compare to the stories.

    Rebecca — that would be wonderful! I’d love to know what you think.

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