Short Story Review – Nicolás Poblete – Rings (trans. Claire Hirsch)

Note – The author of this story, Nicolás Poblete, kindly provided me with a physical copy of The Stinging Fly Volume 2, Issue 30. 

Oh, the situations we can find ourselves in when we succumb to the considerations of other people!  The narrator of Rings (translated by Claire Hirsch) is unnamed throughout, but here are the details – he has become engaged – his fiancée has had her party (a raucous event of plastic penises, panties, and a game called ‘Pin the Dick on the Donkey’, of which there is photographic evidence) – his friend Omar has arranged for his bachelor party – his uncle is dying of AIDS – homophobia and homo-eroticism are strong among his friends – Omar’s idea of a party involves alcohol, drugs and prostitutes – our narrator is not keen or happy or pleased or interested.

Oh, and someone is hanging dead animals in doorways and from bridges.

Yes:

I looked up and, passing under the dog, I walked toward the office.  The manager was talking on the phone when I entered his office.  He hung up quickly and, pursuing his lip, he said:

‘You’ve noticed?’

‘Yes.  It’s not the first time, in any case.’

‘The first in this part of the city, in any case, but don’t worry.’

‘Why?’

‘…’

This at the venue where the narrator will have his wedding in one week’s time.  But this story is not ‘about’ dead dogs the way it is about a debauched bachelor party.  No, these casually mentioned asides are strewn throughout the story and act as hints toward something larger, of something profoundly wrong.  They act to push the story on a tilt, to skew the world.  Poblete introduces the hanged dog in the second paragraph of the story, deliberately front-loading a mystery that isn’t ever resolved.  And the effect?  It allows the story to breathe and become impossibly large, even while remaining entirely focused and tight.  It’s a bachelor story, but this strange sub-situation suggests – but what else could it be?

I am reminded, somewhat, of the beginning of Julio Cortázar’s Final Exam, which opens with a group of students wandering around drinking and talking, while a strange and mysterious fog envelops the city and promises the possibility of a descent into evil and madness.

The story continues.  The narrator relates a lunch with his Uncle Ernesto, who is dying of AIDS, and is clearly homosexual.  The narrator resents him, both for his temerity to die so openly and so young, and also because, even when confronted with death, he (the uncle) refuses to shy away from his identity and continues to show the world who he is.  The narrator commends himself for eating hummus from the same sauce container as his uncle while making it clear that he doesn’t really want to do that at all.  Later, at the bachelor party, the narrator and Omar interact with prostitutes and discuss going to a gay bar.  There’s also a hint – just a hint – that one of the prostitutes might be a transgender man.  Homosexuality abounds, and while the narrator never explicitly makes a stance for or against, it’s evident that he is bothered by it, or affected by it, or at the very least can’t refuse to notice it.

It’s like when you become pregnant, or engaged – suddenly everywhere there are pregnant women or rings on fingers.  You can’t help but notice them because it has, suddenly, become your world, whereas before they were there but you didn’t have a reason to see it.  There’s a word for this, I’m sure.  Or like starting to learn a language: suddenly everyone seems to be speaking Spanish.  At any rate, the narrator is saturated in homosexuality, he notices it everywhere.  It cannot be a coincidence that this is occurring immediately before his wedding.  Is this his last chance to embrace his true self, call off the wedding, and realise that he can, in fact, love another man?  Or is he redirecting his thoughts away from the huge life event about to happen, to an eventuality that will never (for him) occur, in order to better gain perspective on the seismic changes in his life?

We don’t know, but consider that, surrounded by two willing – and paid – prostitutes, the narrator barely notices that one is stroking his leg, that she has removed her bra, and instead spends the majority of the time describing his male companions, noticing men, thinking about men.  He’s also pretty angry throughout, and hardly bothers to think of his fiancée at all.

The story ends before the night, and leaves the narrator wondering about the Adam’s apple of one of the girls.  It was pronounced, but now it seems to have disappeared.  Disappointment that she may not actually be a man?  Perhaps.  They walk from one bar to the next, and their eyes are drawn to a bridge.  Left unsaid is whether a dog, or a cat, or some other animal, is hanging from this bridge.  Left unsaid is what these dead animals might mean.  Left unsaid are the narrator’s true feelings and his true self.  Perhaps he doesn’t know himself.

Rings is a short story by Chilean writer Nicolás Poblete, and was translated by Claire Hirsch.  You can read the story in Volume 2, Issue 30 of The Stinging Fly.

Author Nicolás Poblete
Title Rings
Translator Claire Hirsch
Nationality Chilean
Publisher The Stinging Fly

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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