cover image Varamo


C%C3%A9sar Aira, trans. from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. New Directions, $12.95 trade paper (92p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1741-5

Aira, author of more than 80 published books, returns with another slim story, this one about an ineffectual government clerk who, after wandering around 1923 Col%C3%B3n, Panama all night, sits down and in one fell swoop writes the most famous poem in the modern Central American canon. But Aira is less concerned with the result than he is with the events immediately leading up to its composition: an attempt to embalm a fish; a conversation with two reclusive sisters who live in the neighborhood; a "regularity rally," or race in which the winner is the driver who deviates least from a predetermined speed between start and finish. The book is structured around a series of chance encounters, while also giving Aira some asides on broader concepts like the nature of perception, the promises of narrative form, and human thought. We never get to read Varamo's great poem, and the story might strike some as dilatory and unfocused, but others will relish Aira's language ("The stars were an overwhelming surprise") and the simplicity of his set pieces, one of which serves as the book's last image and involves birds gently pecking at a small red candy stuck on the branches of a bush. (Mar.)