Short Story Review – Casandra Hernández Ríos – Abuelo Castro


Ah, so it’s a ghost story, then.  

Casandra Hernández Ríos’s short story, Abuelo Castro, is a remarkably leisurely piece for a three thousand word short story.  She takes her time to let the piece unfold, stinging slightly at the end as the story comes into focus and its purpose is revealed.  I am not entirely convinced, however, that this langorous style is entirely in keeping with the desired effect of the story.

The inside of their abuelos’ house had never made Eduardo uncomfortable, though it was different from his home in the city. The casita was a simple, but spacious with large rooms and sparse furniture. There were three bedrooms with large wardrobes and robust bed frames but were always dark because the rooms had small windows and their curtains were always drawn. Dark gray stones were laid to cover concrete floors in various intentionally broken directions. Spanish style rectangular picture frames of different sizes lined the walls of every room. Inside gilded frames were black-and-white portraits of family members Eduardo had never met. Enclosed in thicker, more detailed wooden marcos were paintings of holy saints, ángeles, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and of “La Última Cena,” all in color.

Eduardo is off to visit his grandparents.  The drive takes a while.  Very often he would fall asleep, including this time, which annoyed his sister, Carmen.  For unknown reasons she never enjoys visiting her grandparents.

After a while they arrive, matters are somewhat still and eerie, and then they listen to a radio station – 

“Change the station, Papá, por favor. Your grandson will have nightmares,” Eduardo’s mother said in a low voice, as she rocked Carmen in her arms to hush her.

“The boy is old enough,” Abuelo Castro said. “Ghost stories don’t scare you, verdad mijo?”

Later, later, Eduardo falls asleep, wakes up, goes outside, and sees his grandfather (abuelo Castro) involved in an odd task.

This is all very fine, I suppose, but what’s missing, for me, is a certain spark of language.  The text reads very slippery – it just as easily could have been written in 1930s Poland or 2040s New York.  Or nowhere, more accurately.  Aside from the language choices, none of the text feels like it is anywhere.  

I do not, to be clear, require from any text the colour of nativity, and in fact would find that offensive unless handled well (this is true of all matters literary).  What I am looking for instead is something concrete, an anchor upon which to locate the text.  Eduardo, perhaps due to his age, is free of personality – but so too are the characters swirling around him like his parents and his sister.  With the exception of his family members slipping into Spanish occasionally they are as colourless as him.  But to what end – what purpose is being served here?  If the story is set in Mexico (and it is), then why are some of the words in Spanish, and not all?  What does this mean?  If the story is presented as being from the Spanish to English (which I guess it must be if they are all Mexicans in Mexico?), are these words, then, actually English in the original?  I appreciate it’s not a translation, but this is confusing to me.

I would have perhaps approached the story more postively if the encroaching creepiness of the ending was foreshadowed to a stronger degree. I like where it went, but I think the getting-there parts of the story (2,500 of 3,000 words) were not sufficiently strong.  It’s a shame, because I try to come at all texts positively and with love in my heart.  The how of something written is perhaps most interesting – and the how here simply isn’t sufficiently interesting.

A story can be written about anything, in any way, at any length.  James Joyce wrote seven hundred pages about a single day – Mathias Énard wrote Zone in a single sentence – Georges Perec wrote a book without the letter – Italo Calvino wrote a book comprised of the beginnings of twenty other books – Raymond Queneau published a book which was the same short story told using ninety-nine different style.  My point is not to compare the author to these great writers (this would be unfair), but to identify that what is exciting, to me, is when a story is told in a way before unseen, using flair or flash or vim or vigor in a new and fascinating manner.  This same story could have been told using bolder language, stronger characterisation, deeper themeing – and how wonderful it might have been.

To compare a story such as this to masterpieces such as those is immensely unfair.  I apologise in advance to Casandra Hernández Ríos for using her story as a springboard to discuss what I admire about literature.  There are the bones of something here – though this might be true of any ordinary story.  The nights need to be darker, the fabrics more vibrant in colour.  The dirt should grit in the mouth, and I would have loved to smell the spices used to cook dinner.  Eduardo, as much as your preceding ten years may have been dull to create the dull boy you are now, I hope perhaps that the next ten are exciting and fulfilling, and that you grow into your own.

Eduardo kicked off his shoes and climbed into bed next to him, still wearing jeans and the knitted sweater his mother had chosen for him, and pulled the covers over his head. He told himself that Hell wasn’t real and that stories on “La Mano Peluda” were just fiction. He tried to clear his head and instead imagined fluffy white sheep jumping over the moon. Eduardo counted the sheep like his father had taught him and when he got to sixty, he fell into a restless sleep.

But anyway a shame, yes.

Abuelo Castro is a short story by American writer Casandra Hernández Ríos

Author Casandra Hernández Ríos
Title Abuelo Castro
Nationality American
Publisher Verdad Magazine

See Also

United States of America


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