cover image Underground River and Other Stories

Underground River and Other Stories

Ines Arredondo. University of Nebraska Press, $50 (130pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-1034-9

Reading Arredondo is not unlike watching certain Bunuel movies: women who are both passive and powerful dominate stories that are charged with madness and (generally unnatural) eroticism. Arredondo's style and her subjects are subtle and rather rarefied. In the half dozen or so longer pieces among the 12 here, readers lose themselves in that world, and its oddness comes as a delightful frisson. In shorter pieces (some are just a couple of paragraphs), the same style and subject can seem merely stiff and pretentious. The five longest pieces are truly outstanding. Both ""The Shunammite,"" about a young woman forced to marry an ancient, wealthy uncle in extremis only to have lust pull him back from the grave, and ""The Mirrors,"" about a girl's tragic parentage, reflect cruel interweavings of destiny and character. They are eclipsed by three stories set in rich, enervated households ruled by perversion (""The Nocturnal Butterflies,"" ""Shadow in the Shadows"") or, as in the title story, by madness. ""Underground River"" is not really a story but more of a plea from the narrator to her nephew, begging him never to visit or think of her and telling how she has become the gatekeeper of the family's insanity. ""I have led a solitary life for many years, a woman alone in this immense house, a cruel and exquisite life,"" she explains to him in a prologue that might characterize many of Arredondo's characters and stories. ""I have a destiny but it isn't mine. I have to live my life according to other people's destinies."" (June)