Short Story Review – Susana Vallejo – Returning (trans. Lawrence Schimel)

Crystalline water in movement, crossing the green. God, just thinking about it made her tremble.

The protagonist of Susana Vallejo’s flash fiction piece, Returning (translated by Lawrence Schimel), is about to return home to Earth.  She has been gone a long time, and all of the people she knew are dead.  That was the deal – a new planet, interesting science and technology, the chance to be a part of history – and all you had to do was never see your family again even if you were lucky enough to survive and come home.

The others weren’t.  It’s unclear exactly how many people were with her during this science experiment, but the years have gone by and she is the only one left.  Her mouth has breathed the same air for years.  Used the same water.  Recycling run amok, keeping her alive, keeping her able to perform the scientific tasks she has been assigned, but incapable of nourishing her soul.  She misses greenery, roast chicken, her mother.

That was her favorite place. The landscape for 360 degrees showed nothing human. Just the dry sea, the gentle hills and the whimsical rock formations. The glimmers, the infinite reds and yellows and oranges. With the first sunset, the sky would begin to burn and would transform into a palate of purples and violets.

And then as she is about to leave she turns and looks at the planet.  There’s nobody but her.  Is she ready to go back?

No, it seems, and so she does something foolish, commits an act of romance to the life she is about to leave, and to which she spent her whole life completing.  She takes off her helmet and breathes the air of her planet.

And dies.

Returning has a fine rhythm to it, managing to balance the sense of loss and excitement well across its several hundred words.  Less successful, I think, was the lack of a name for the character.  At times, the text wraps itself up in knots using words like ‘she’ and ‘her’ and not a name (other characters are named), and the effect here is clumsy and doesn’t add to anything I could decipher.  Why not call her – well, anything?  Susana would have been a nice touch, I think.

The clumsiest example is this – “Only she and that metallic box would return, the case that still had room to store something more.”  And unfortunately, with flash fiction, a clumsy sentence is disruptive beyond that of a larger piece.  It has to be, of course, and here it is.  It comes early in the piece, and for the rest of the text I was noticing the word ‘she’ wherever it was written, and after a couple of paragraphs it lost all meaning.  Odd how words can do that, how they are able to be broken down into nothingness by virtue of repetition.  And none of the remaining sentences were really all that clumsy!  Ah, well.

Returning is a short story by Spanish writer Susana Vallejo and was translated by Lawrence Schimel.  You can read the story at Speculative Fiction in Translation.

Author Susana Vallejo (Twitter)
Title Returning
Translator Lawrence Schimel
Nationality Spanish
Publisher Speculative Fiction in Translation

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2 thoughts on “Short Story Review – Susana Vallejo – Returning (trans. Lawrence Schimel)

    1. Hi. I can read Spanish well enough to appreciate the challenge – and am very sympathetic to both the author and the translator! Something beautiful in Spanish can be clumsy in English, and vice versa. Thank you for commenting, and I will definitely read that story – thank you! (And I did quite like this story.)


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